How far does the climate crisis (radically) challenge our perspectives of fragility and violent conflicts?

This is the main question of the think piece This Changes Everything”? Rethinking Fragility and Violent Conflicts from the Climate Crisis Perspective , which  I wrote with Danny Burns, Research Professor at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) at the University of Sussex, Brighton/UK. 


Rethinking Fragility and Violent Conflicts from the Climate Crisis Perspective

The paper discusses possible implications of the climate crisis for conflict dynamics, peacebuilding and development agencies. The article is meant to provoke and to generate a debate in the fields of development, peacebuilding and conflict transformation.

“This Changes Everything”?

This article argues that the climate crisis ‘changes everything’ in so far as it demands a radical change in practice and in government and donor policies on fragility and violent conflicts. In the light of the climate crisis, three areas should be of particular concern for academic scholars, development and peacebuilding practitioners, human rights and peace activists, and social movements:


  • Challenging the growth delusion
  • Challenging the military-industrial complex
  • Supporting the collective resistance and resilience.

Much development and peacebuilding practice – supported by UN and other international and national agencies and donors – is based on uncontested principles of ‘market integration or liberalisation’. This market liberalisation is based on the overriding idea of markets’ capacity to deliver prosperity and development. It comes in the form of external economic (re)construction of social infrastructure and democratic institutions in poverty-ridden and war-torn societies.

Impacts of the climate crisis

The impacts of the climate crisis challenge the socioeconomic foundation of international peacebuilding and development: neoliberal models based on perpetual economic growth.  The global economy is driven by the growth imperative of large multinational corporations to maximise profits. Challenging the growth delusion is an overarching challenge for all of us, as it radically questions our own Western lifestyles and consumer patterns but also the general idea of “sustainable development.” In the think piece, we suggest different ways forward. 

Prioritizing well-being over economic growth

One example is to use strategies which prioritize well-being over economic growth, and hence to inform emerging debates on reshaping our understanding of wellbeing, sustainable development and climate justice. What follows from a radical shift away from growth is that greater attention will need to be paid in both national and international law to regulating private sector practice.

This suggests a much stronger role for the state and international governance at a time when national democracy and international governance are under increasing threat. It requires a balancing act, in which citizens who challenge the state’s inaction on climate change, do not undermine it in such a way as to prevent it from regulating large corporations.

Challenging the military-industrial complex and supporting collective resistance and resilience

While a few peacebuilding organisations have been challenging the military-industrial complex and supporting collective resistance and resilience for many years, the climate crisis makes this work imperative. 

The military, arms industry and multinational companies driving the military-industrial complex have a major impact on carbon-driven growth, but they are often ignored in policymaking. 

While military and security forces have started to improve their use of green, sustainable energy, this “greenwashing” leaves the military logic unchallenged: illegal arms trading and war-making are accepted forms of defence and foreign policy, and modern warfare is not possible without the profligate use of fossil fuels. By accepting the greenwashing of the military, we legitimise a ‘new’ military growth doctrine that justifies increased arms production and associated global risks.

Looking at the long history of environmental protection and climate justice, one finds that a particular set of actors stand out: indigenous communities, urban poor, farmers and pastoralists. They are highly dependent on their lands for their livelihoods. They are typically either very directly affected by climate change and/or have a deep spiritual relationship with their traditional lands.

If we believe that local communities know what is best for them, it is critical for communities to make meaningful choices to mitigate the impacts of climate change and develop innovative solutions. Participatory and inclusive climate change adaptation processes are well positioned and suited for building resilient communities, as they give marginalised groups the opportunity to voice their concerns, and promote social cohesion and inter-group inclusion. 

 “This Changes Everything”!

All three areas and possible implications for working on fragility, conflict-sensitive development and peacebuilding are discussed in the think piece in greater detail. We argue that nothing but a root-and-branch transformation of the ‘projectisation’ of funding and social change is required. Donors should be willing to stop funding single and short-term climate change adaptation projects and invest instead in grassroots, local and regional movements for social change and climate justice. It is only once we collectively tell the truth and align ourselves with indigenous communities and international social movements, that we will be able to transform the systems which perpetuate climate injustice. 


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