Climate, Environment and Stability

14th September 2022
Author: Juliet Millican

Climate Change, Environment, Fragile and Conflict Affected States, Humanitarianism, Migration

Sustainable Development Goals

11.  Sustainable Cities and Communities, 13.  Climate Action, 2.    Zero Hunger, 6.    Clean Water and Sanitation

This learning package focuses on the complex interaction between climate, conflict and stability. While there is no one simple or causal link between natural resource scarcity and conflict, they have been shown to interact with each other in many different ways and need to remain near the top of the international agenda.

Climate risk and the perception of risk vary according to context, but the availability of natural resources is inevitably impacted by climate change, and directly affects livelihoods and food security. Existing vulnerabilities to conflict and instability are likely to be further exacerbated by climate change. And while there is general agreement on the impact of climate change, the urgency and threat to stability that climate change will incur has still not been fully embraced.

Addressing the complex interactions between climate, conflict and stability requires a systems approach rather than a linear one, outlining critical issues for stability in any given context and working backwards to identify potential and actual climate-related drivers of instability, and the interactions and feedback loops between them. Governments and other organisations need to work across policies and programmes prioritising cross-border programming and using a political economy lens, recognising that the significance of this complex interaction is not limited to any one single department.

Overview of the evidence

This learning package brings together resources gathered over a two-year period (2019-2021) through a K4D Learning Journey, many of which have been published by partners who presented during webinars. They include helpdesk reports from K4D and publications from ODI, The World Bank, The United Nations (UN) and the European Union (EU).

External national and global factors during the learning journey (such as COVID-19) extended its duration, and the climate-conflict nexus both rose and fell on the political agenda over that time, brought to the fore by COP26. By the end, the impacts of climate change were even more visible than at the start. While statistics and figures quickly become out of date, the key messages emerging from discussions and from these resources are only becoming more relevant.

Evidence shows that if approached strategically, climate risks can become opportunities for collaboration and mediation of conflict as their impact transcends country borders or political divide. Water scarcity, for example, has been seen to drive cooperation more often than conflict. However, well intentioned climate mitigation measures (such as reduction on fossil fuel use and transition to renewables) can create unexpected political impacts on countries dependent on oil exports, and further exacerbate the risk of instability.

Women and men experience climate change differently in relation to their roles in natural resource management, their involvement in decision making and their opportunities for mobility. The gender dynamics of any interventions therefore need to be considered carefully, making use of the separate expertise that men and women bring. There is much evidence to illustrate the positive role that women can play in sustainable peacebuilding.

Climate displacement is a further growing challenge. Investment in understanding the needs and impact of climate-induced migration is urgently needed to minimise or avert the potential instability this displacement will cause. Programmers and policy makers need to focus on building climate resilience and long-term response strategies that take into account climate-related risks to stability. Support to federal governments alone rarely reaches municipal/local authorities and community groups.


The resources below have been selected due to their relevance to the learning package. Explore them to strengthen your understanding of climate, environment and stability.

Continents, regions and countries