Drafted by Dr. Michael Shank

The Need for a Center on Climate Conflict

Climate conflict and climate security are quickly becoming dominant themes in national and international discourse and policymaking circles given climate change’s ability, via its corresponding and worsening extreme weather, to destroy infrastructure and livelihoods, destabilize and displace communities, and create and/or exacerbate conflict and violence.

Research shows conflicts increasingly created or worsened by climate change, as sea-level rise, heat waves, droughts, storms, and flooding increase in frequency and ferocity, displace tens of million people annually, and cost economies hundreds of billions of dollars. These climate conflict and security-related issues and trends will only worsen in terms of impact and are deserving of the conflict community’s full attention now.

The Opportunity for Leadership

The Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution has always been at the forefront of the conflict field, leading and pioneering when new thinking was needed. Now is no different. There is an opportunity for the Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution to lead the field in the development of climate conflict research and practice, theory and skills building, curricula and case studies, and more.

What the Carter School will offer, in terms of theory and practice, is not only a root cause and basic human needs analysis of what is creating climate change and climate conflict and driving climate displacement, but also an exploration of what builds more sustainable and resilient communities capable of withstanding the next environmental shock and conflict – and the corresponding economic, social, and political shocks and conflicts that come with it.

The Carter School will offer meaningful research and analysis in both the problem and solution: what’s creating the conflict and how to prevent it. The Center will examine the problem of climate conflict from two lenses: 1) What’s making the problem worse from a systems and behavior change perspective, and 2) How to prevent the emergence of new climate-related conflict and/or violence by equipping communities with ways to build more resilient human, natural and physical capital.

Existing Assets for a Center on Climate Conflict

The Carter School already has in place many of the assets needed to build out this focus area given its extensive global reach of practitioners, current and alumni. Much of this climate conflict research, theory and practice will be informed and aided by networks in communities currently or potentially impacted by climate change and climate conflict. The Carter School has an opportunity to leverage that expertise and knowledge for analysis and ultimate impact in policymaking circles nationally and internationally.

Sample Course Offerings at the Center on Climate Conflict

The course descriptions below represent a sample of the kinds of courses the Center on Climate Conflict would offer, a few of which could be offered in partnership with GMU’s Institute for a Sustainable Earth and GMU’s Center for Climate Change Communication.

Social/Political Conflict in Climate Discourse
This course studies the narrative conflicts emerging in climate-related discourse, its intractability and partisanship, and opportunities for narrative intervention to deescalate discourse and partisanship while building new social capital to tackle climate conflicts.

Media Conflict and Climate Change
This course evaluates how media influences discourse on climate, escalates or deescalates social and political conflicts, and positively promotes or obstructs conflict prevention and/or resolution of climate conflict.

Conflict Analysis of Climate Risk
This course tracks high-risk environments where food and water insecurity are prevalent and extreme weather and climate impacts are increasing in severity. This course assesses the level of risk to livelihoods, using existing food security and water risk data sets, and evaluates, for public/policymaker use, key regions/zones requiring immediate policymaker attention.

Preventing Conflict in Climate-Insecure Communities
This course explores prevention opportunities in climate-insecure environments, based on the risk analysis available in the Center’s other resources and program courses, and identifies how sustainable development approaches can meet basic human needs and build more resilient societies capable of withstanding displacement and destabilization.

Demilitarizing Response to Climate Conflict and Violence
This course evaluates the effectiveness and efficiency of national defense strategies and responses to climate-related conflict and violence, explores alternative interventions within intelligence and military mandates and missions, and identifies case studies of/for effective nonviolent de-escalatory approaches to climate conflict.

Peacebuilding Approaches to Climate Conflicts
This course identifies peacebuilding approaches and positive peace pillars relevant to a proactive response to climate conflict and violence. This course focuses on intervention during climate-related conflicts and/or violence and works with GMU’s global network of alumni and students to ensure peacebuilding practice is ground-truthed, pragmatic and possible.

Sample Resources at the Center on Climate Conflict

The resources described below illustrate a sampling of the kinds of resources on offer at the Center on Climate Conflict at GMU’s Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution.

Conflict Risk Profiles and Assessments
The Center produces annual profiles of countries/communities that are at extreme risk of conflict and/or violence due to high food insecurity, water risk and climate disaster, and lack resilient adaptive mechanisms to respond to and withstand worsening climate impacts.

Climate Conflict Case Studies
The Center produces country-specific case studies, based on Carter School expertise and field knowledge, to illustrate how climate change is impacting and influencing insecurity, instability, conflict, and violence around the world.

Peacebuilder Profiles in Climate Security
The Center produces profiles of Carter School peacebuilders working to equip communities around the world with resilient adaptive mechanisms to withstand climate impacts, displacement, and migration.

Policy Recommendations for Climate Conflict Prevention
The Center produces policy briefs for policymakers in the United States, European Union, and the United Nations, on how foreign policy and development/aid investments can/should prioritize prevention to shore up communities’ ability to sustain and weather climate impacts and avoid displacement and mass migration.

Key Performance Indicators

What success looks like for the Center on Climate Conflict has both internal and external components. Internally, in 3-5 years, the Center is leading the conflict and sociology fields in both research and practice. The Center is producing and publishing new theory, data and findings for the conflict field as well as growing and graduating a cohort of professionals able to intervene and engage globally. Externally, in 3-5 years, the Center is operating as a respected and relied-upon source for climate conflict analysis, prevention, and resolution. At this point, the Center is networked into multiple defense and security policymaking and international development decision-making circles – in Washington DC, New York City, Brussels, Geneva and more – and valued for its climate conflict contributions and the resources mentioned above.

Next Steps

The Center on Climate Conflict at Mason’s Carter School represents an opportunity to lead on this issue nationally and internationally, for the academic community and the policymaking community. Climate conflict and security conversations in policymaking circles need a thoughtful hand to guide in both the reaction to and, more importantly, the prevention of climate conflict and climate insecurity. In developing this theory and practice, the Carter School stands ready to provide valuable research and analysis – from a conflict prevention and peacebuilding perspective – that will inform policymaking decisions as climate conflicts increasingly arise.