Necessary Complexity: Untangling the Shifting Dynamics of Climate Change, Fragility, Aid and Conflict

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The evolving relationship between the environment, fragility, and peace is creating a radically new operational environment for peacebuilding interventions. The contexts we now face pose new, complex challenges that must be addressed systemically and simultaneously across various scales, incorporating local, national, regional, and global programs. Climate change, in particular, and its impact on ecosystems and weather patterns, need to be addressed differently.

Researchers have established a clear link between climate change and peace, but in addressing these issues, policymakers and peace advocates often overlook the role of changing environmental factors and socio-ecological contexts, focusing instead on inherently simple, human-centric solutions. As a result, they neglect a certain level of complexity. This article suggests a practical framework, rooted in systems thinking, to bridge this gap. To generate straightforward action, the researchers recommend that peacebuilders a) analyze the relationship between aid, power, societal conflict, and environmental impacts and b) generate context-specific action, two steps that require much deeper, more nuanced analysis.

Methods and Results

In their review of literature, the researchers focus on two systems-based approaches developed by the CDA Collaborative Learning Projects: the Reflecting on Peace Practice (RPP) approach and the Do No Harm (DNH) framework. The researchers build on these ideas and propose a framework built around:

  1. Examining the interaction between human and environmental factors
  2. Including the perspective of local affected communities
  3. Incorporating a diverse variety of viewpoints
  4. Conducting multi-scale analysis.

The key to this framework is systems thinking, which acknowledges complexity, uncertainty, and the interconnectedness of seemingly disparate elements. In systems thinking, instead of analyzing a situation in individual parts, analysts consider issues holistically, as part of a connected system. This analysis can be taken a step further by integrating the Do No Harm principle, which emphasizes the importance of carefully analyzing and designing interventions in conflict or environmental contexts to ensure they do not unintentionally worsen power dynamics or harm societal or ecological systems.

The researchers identify resilience and vulnerability thinking as fundamental to their approach. By including resilience, defined as “the ability of people, communities, societies, or cultures to live and develop with change in their environments,” policymakers can more easily identify underlying social and ecological factors and dynamics that past failures in the field may have missed. Similarly, the concept of vulnerability, defined as a group’s susceptibility to harm, provides peacebuilders with an entry point into conflict solutions by identifying dynamic pressures, such as weak local institutions, urbanization patterns, the availability of arms, etc. Including resilience and vulnerability to the systems thinking framework offers peace advocates a practical way to explore power dynamics and how these dynamics impact peace and conflicts, especially their impact on society and the environment.



Siad Darwish (University of Melbourne, CDA Collaborative Learning Projects), Ruth Rhoads Allen (CDA), Maureen Lempke (CDA, Duke University)

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Climate & Sustainability, Governance, Conflict, Peacebuilding, Global, Sustainability