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Three Steps to Including Conflict Considerations in the Design of Climate Change Adaptation Projects

Multiple Authors


Research in 2020 found that 12 out of the 20 countries most vulnerable to climate change were also affected by conflict. Climate change, combined with existing social, political and economic dynamics, can exacerbate vulnerabilities, undermine peacebuilding efforts and lead to new conflicts. This is especially the case in fragile and conflict-affected countries, where low development levels, insecurity and weak governance limit coping potential. 

In fragile and conflict-affected countries, climate change adaptation projects have the potential to influence conflict dynamics—and either increase or reduce conflict risks—depending on their design and implementation. The impact of conflict on project implementation (and vice versa) has been recognized by major donors of international climate finance as an issue that should receive attention. However, as yet, conflict risks do not seem to be systematically considered in the design and evaluation of adaptation projects, making it difficult to determine how the projects influence conflict dynamics.

This policy brief recommends a three-step approach to facilitating the consideration of conflict risks in the design of climate change adaptation projects. The steps are:

  1. Analysing climate–conflict dynamics at the project level;
  2. Assessing how the adaptation project influences the climate–conflict dynamics; 
  3. Integrating the insights from the climate–conflict analysis into the adaptation project’s design.

These steps were derived from an analysis of conflict considerations in four projects from a single country, Sudan, and would benefit from further testing in other contexts. These same steps, with some modifications, can also be applied in the implementation and the monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL) stages of climate change adaptation projects.

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Step 1: Analysing climate–conflict dynamics at the project level

Given the complexity of the links between climate change and conflict, it is important that project developers understand the wider societal system in which they are operating and the potential effects of their projects on target communities. By including a conflict-sensitivity analysis in the project’s design and making an effort to understand how the project influences the existing climate–conflict dynamics, project developers can help ensure that their projects maximize adaptation gains, avoid exacerbating tensions and, ideally, contribute to peace.

SIPRI earlier identified four interrelated pathways that can help project developers analyse the climate–conflict context in which they are operating:

  • Deteriorating livelihood conditions – examines how climate change can interact with other factors and processes to upend livelihoods and increase the risk of people resorting to violence to secure their land and resources.
  • Migration and mobility – considers how human migration and mobility caused by climate change can alter livelihoods and result in increased pressure on already scarce natural resources in destination areas.
  • Armed group tactics – explores how armed groups can wield the impacts of climate change to secure territory and recruit individuals from communities whose livelihoods have been upended.
  • Elite exploitation or resource mismanagement – looks at how individuals with relative wealth and power can exploit climate change impacts and climate-related disasters to increase their control over land and resources at the expense of vulnerable communities.
Pathways of climate-related security risks (See Figure 1, p. 2, source:  SIPRI Climate Change and Risk Programme)

Step 2: Assessing how the project influences climate–conflict dynamics

Visualization of the links between climate, livelihoods and conflict, as well as of the various social, economic, political and governance factors that influence these links, can support the assessment of how an adaptation project will intervene in the climate-related security risk pathways. A useful tool for this purpose is a causal loop diagram (CLD). A CLD can be made to visualize existing dynamics and assess how the proposed project intervenes in these dynamics and what consequences that may have on the wider system.

To ensure relevant factors and dynamics are fully considered in project design, a process in which a CLD is co-created with local actors is desirable. Moreover, this co-creation approach can contribute to local ownership of climate adaptation, which can facilitate its implementation and durability.

. Example of a causal loop diagram showing climate–conflict dynamics (See Figure 2, p. 4).

Step 3: Integrating climate–conflict analysis into project design

The climate–conflict dynamics that will be in play when a climate change adaptation project is under implementation need to be understood and integrated into the project’s planning or design phase (including its theory of change), and as part of the MEL processes. Ideally, the analysis of these dynamics, carried out in steps 1 and 2, is not merely included as part of the background of a project proposal; rather, the analysis should be fully integrated as part of the project’s objectives, activities, and expected outputs and outcomes.

To explore the steps of this approach in more detail, please refer to the policy brief.


The three steps proposed in this policy brief comprise a concrete method for the climate change adaptation community to ensure that their projects consider and effectively contribute to reducing climate-related conflict risks. While a detailed analysis of climate–conflict dynamics can be resource-intensive, omitting the analysis from project design and implementation could lead to unintended consequences that undermine the very goals of the project. If planned for in advance and built into the MEL procedures of a project, the three-step approach could save time during the project’s implementation phase.

Applying this approach can also contribute to a greater awareness of the climate–conflict context in which adaptation projects are implemented, reduce the likelihood of maladaptive adaptation strategies that end up worsening (rather than reducing) climate-related vulnerabilities, avoid exacerbating tensions and, ideally, promote peace.

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