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Mainstreaming climate concerns into conflict-related evaluation work

Our work with UK Government is highlighting the value of applying a climate lens to conflict-related development programming.


Climate change is inexorably linked with the most intractable development and humanitarian challenges of our time, such as poverty, conflict, health, and food security. Its impacts are felt most heavily by disadvantaged and vulnerable people, and it is likely to hinder development efforts and threaten sustainable development.

We are working with partners globally to help them strengthen their understanding of the impacts of climate change on their development programmes and their options to transition to more sustainable ways of working. One of the ways we do this is applying a climate lens in all our monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL) activities.

In this blog, we explain why and how we are mainstreaming climate concerns into conflict-related MEL work. In doing so, we highlight some of the challenges, opportunities and innovations that warrant further focus in the MEL sector.

What is climate mainstreaming? And why do we do it?

How climate change intersects with conflict and crime

Climate change can act as a ‘threat multiplier’, meaning it has the potential to exacerbate drivers of conflict and crime. It does this in many ways, including:

  • climatic conditions may reduce people’s income, which can lead to conflict by decreasing the opportunity cost for rebellion
  • climate-induced economic decline may exacerbate actual and perceived economic and political inequalities, which can lead to conflict
  • climate changes or weather-related events can induce displacement or migration, which can lead to conflict in the regions receiving the displaced people, or competition over resources, ethnic tensions or distrust.

So climate change can contribute to conflict – and in turn, conflict can accelerate climate change and biodiversity loss. The devastating impacts of armed conflicts on environment and biodiversity have been widely documented. A 2019, a study conducted on Nepal, Sri Lanka, Ivory Coast and Peru (all of which suffered from armed conflicts over the last two decades) found that forest destruction took place at an alarming rate as soon as the conflicts were over.

How we are supporting partners to integrate climate concerns into their work

Organisations and institutions such as the UK Government are increasingly paying attention to the intersection of climate and conflict in their work.

As part of our work leading a consortium to provide monitoring, evaluation, research and learning services to the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF), across South Asia, we are thinking about how to mainstream climate change and biodiversity thinking into country programming. In 2021, an Itad Working Paper entitled ‘Connecting conflict, climate change and ecological crises’ sparked the interest of UK Government, particularly among their CSSF South Asia team whose focal countries are experiencing the sharp-end of the climate crises. Following on from this Paper, Itad was commissioned by the UK Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office to adapt it into a training session to better prepare CSSF programme teams to apply an ecological and climate lens to their programming. In November 2022 we are piloting this training for country teams and through a mixture of presentations and practical exercises we explored examples of where climate and biodiversity mainstreaming is supporting conflict mitigation in other countries and programmes.

Another way we are supporting partners to consider the intersection of climate and conflict is through bringing a climate lens into our research and evidence generation. In our MEL work on global serious organised crime, with the UK Government Home Office, we conducted research on the drivers and impacts of the illicit gold trade. By broadening the original scope of the literature review, we were able to add a set of specific climate-related research questions to highlight the detrimental environmental consequences of transnational serious organised crime, which we saw as also being very pertinent for this study Indeed, we found that illegal gold mining has contributed to a sharp rise in deforestation and water pollution, causing irreversible harms to rivers in the Brazilian Amazon. Illegal mining has also raised levels of toxic mercury in Latin America, polluting clean water and creating health risks for local communities.

Moving the dial on climate thinking

As MEL providers we have an important role to play to respond to the climate crisis. At Itad we agree with Astrid Brousselle and Jim McDavid’s call to arms: as evaluators we ‘claim to work for social betterment…[and so] have a responsibility to adapt our approaches and practices to respond to this environmental challenge.’  An important part of this is helping to move the dial on climate thinking, to encourage our partners to understand it as a cross-cutting issue as opposed to a stand-alone topic.

For example, in the case of our research on illegal gold mining, our Home Office partners did not initially include the environmental effects of the gold trade in their project scope. Instead they focused on the threats the gold trade pose to UK homeland security. However, as our research progressed we realised there was significant evidence to support the inclusion of an environmental crime section in our review. After an initial presentation of findings, our partners were really receptive to these new insights and encouraged the final report to also focus on the human and environmental costs of the gold trade alongside more traditional serious organised crime threats.

Scott Swain, Research Lead at the UK Home Office said:

“Including the environmental lens provided an interesting insight in to the illicit/licit Gold trade, and influenced us to think more about which other threat types may benefit from applying a similar lens. We will be pursuing further research in the environmental crime space which will be influenced by this earlier work.”

As the landmark Dasgupta Review on the Economics of Biodiversity highlights, ‘we need to change how we think, act and measure success’. This requires new ways of working and mutually learning.  We hope that by encouraging a holistic approach to addressing the intersection of the climate crisis and conflict and stabilisation, we will help our partners surface new ‘solutions’ to more traditional problems.

Find out more about our action on climate change