Mapping environmental conflicts and cooperation


Factsheet FAQ

This page provides a detailed explanation of all the elements of the factsheets. This includes a description of the rationale of specific elements as well as the description of key functionalities.  It is not necessary to read this document in its entirety in order to understand the factsheet because the latter is largely intuitive. However, this FAQ is designed to help users understand and interpret each element of the factsheet and to provide a basic description and justification of these. It also provides links to more detailed and technical descriptions of different aspects.

The Summary Table:

The summary table at the top features basic information about the conflict. Two items need explanation: Type of conflict describes whether the conflict is a main conflict or a sub conflict. A main conflict is a conflict for which other cases exist on a lower geographical or temporal level. If a case is a sub-case of another conflict, a main conflict describing the dynamics on a higher level of abstraction exists. You will often find links to related conflicts in the main texts and also under Related Conflicts in the References and Materials Section of the factsheet. The Intensity listed in the summary table is the summary variable Human Suffering which is described in more detail in the description of the Intensities & Influences Section below.

Embedded Map:

The embedded map on the factsheet is a subset of the world map. The documentation of the worldmap provides more detail on all map-related questions. You can scroll and zoom within the embedded map. However, this map only includes the selected conflict.
The Conflict Marker location is based on where the conflict takes place. This is often an approximation because many conflicts take place over a large territory or cannot be easily pinned down to a specific location (e.g., conflicts over water allocation in a large transboundary basin such as the Nile).

Compound Risk Symbols:

The Compound Risk Symbols below the title indicate the presence of specific compound risks in the respective conflict. Compound risks, as understood here, are sets of mechanisms of environmental and social processes that together lead to situations of fragility.  You can find the name of the compound risk by hovering over the symbol, and you can filter by compound risk both on the map and in the tabular view.

You can find an explanation of these compound risks and examples of emblematic conflict cases here. 
Conceptually, these compound risks stem from the report "A New Climate for Peace", which you can find here.

Conceptual Model:

The conceptual model schematically visualizes how environmental change is connected to a conflict or other situation of fragility in a specific case. It does so by connecting drivers, such as increased water scarcity, to outcomes, such as anti-state grievances, and specifies the main mechanisms and intermediate states that link them together.

Environmental changes such as increasing water scarcity may have direct social (yellow lines) and/or climatic causes (green lines). Such changes may then affect societies in ways that ultimately contribute to conflict. To display this basic process, we display crucial aspects of climatic changes and social causes on the left of the diagram, leading to environmental change (second box from the left). These environmental changes then have consequences for societies (mostly featured in the box "Intermediary Mechanisms") that translate into drivers for conflicts and other situations of fragility (on the right).

To capture the idea that the environmental and societal context shapes how specific mechanisms play out, we also include environmental (blue) and societal (red) context factors at the bottom of the conceptual model. For example, the environmental context factor "water-stressed area" suggests that the link between an environmental change increasing water scarcity and its effect on agricultural productivity will likely be more severe in an already water-stressed context. Similarly, societal context factors such as an "unresponsive government" will make it more likely that adaptation to an environmental shock (such as environmental migration) will lead to a situation of fragility / conflictual outcome.

Each step along the conceptual model is documented in detail in the factsheet itself. Hover over the different drivers / intermediary states / outcomes to find detailed descriptions of them. Hover over the links/curves to find detailed descriptions of the mechanisms and processes that connect them.

For interpreting the model as a whole, three caveats need to be taken into account: The model is  a (i) partial account that features (ii) potential links in a (iii)parsimonious manner.

(i) Partial account: he conceptual model is neither meant to suggest that the environmental change is the only driver of a particular conflict, nor that an environmental change alone is sufficient to induce conflict. Rather, it provides an account of the environmental dimension of the conflict within the broader societal context.

(ii) Potential links: Links are potential in two senses: First, every link might or might not be present for a case. In other words, we are not implying that a specific condition (e.g. increased water scarcity) will deterministically lead to the same outcome. Second, some links – in particular from climate change to extreme weather events – are inherently potential as the definite relationship between climate change and a specific extreme weather event cannot be established. 

(iii) Parsimonious explanation: When choosing which links to display for a specific conflict, there is often a tradeoff between displaying a conflict in all its complexity and keeping the visualization understandable. For that reason, we sometimes choose a more parsimonious over a more complex representation of the case, meaning the absence of a specific link for a given case does not mean that the mechanisms is not present at all.


Intensities and Influences:

This section visually aggregates two types of information about the conflict on a 1 to 4 scale:

The intensity of a conflict can be assessed based on different criteria. Combining them in a single measure would therefore make the meaning of a specific value unclear. For this reason, we currently distinguish between two types of conflict intensity. The first, Human Suffering, summarises the information regarding the humanitarian impacts of the conflict, in particular fatalities, violence, and mass displacement. The second, International / Geopolitical Intensity, summarises information that makes a conflict salient from an international and geopolitical perspective, such as cross-border migration, involvement of more than one nuclear power, and the occurrence of interstate tensions or even war. These measures should be comparable across conflicts. Both of these measures are certainly not perfect and should be taken as a rough orientation rather than as a claim to perfect measurement. In the spirit of this being an open project, we are interested in receiving suggestions for the amendment and extension of these criteria.

As displayed in the conceptual model and described textually in the case studies, environmental and societal influences that can lead to situations of fragility often interact in complex ways. Nonetheless, there are conflicts where the environmental drivers seem relatively more important than societal ones and vice versa. To give an approximate sense of these influences, we also scale them from 1 to 4. Environmental Influences will be higher the stronger we judge the exogenous environmental shock from climate change to be. The measure is a summary of the "Climate Change Causes"-links of the Conceptual ModelSocietal Influences will be higher the more conducive we believe the social situation, such as the presence of societal cleavages and other societal context factors, to be in contributing to and intensifying situations of fragility and conflict. It is important to underline that these two measures are designed to provide a helpful comparative perspective for a specific conflict, but that they are not comparable across conflicts.

A more detailed documentation on the background of these measures and how they are computed can be found here.

Note: In the tabular preview of conflicts that is shown on the worldmap view as well as the list view only one intensity value is displayed. This is due to space constraints. The value displayed is the higher of the two values Human Suffering and International / Geopolitical Intensity. 


Detailed Conflict Intensity Information:

This table provides detailed information on different aspects of conflict intensity, such as fatalities, level of diplomatic crisis and displacement. You can find more information by hovering over the ?-symbol that opens a mouse-over with additional information on the variable in question.

Resolution Success:

This table features a set of variables that assess to which degree there has been some success in conflict resolution and, if so, whether this can be attributed to successful conflict resolution strategies or other factors. As with the table providing detailed conflict intensity information, you can find more information on these variables by hovering over the ?-symbol.  

Conflict Resolution Strategies:

The conflict resolution strategies are a typology of resolution strategies that have or could have been employed by local authorities and/or by foreign policy makers in the conflict.
For each conflict, a relevant selection of the complete list of conflict resolution strategies is displayed:

  • Not applicable: Those strategies that would not be solutions to the current conflict are not displayed.
  • Potential strategy: Those strategies that could be solutions to the conflict but have not been employed are displayed with the value 0: "Applicable, but not employed"
  • Employed strategy: Those strategies that have been attempted are, respectively, displayed as attempted weakly (1), being an important part of conflict resolution (2) or even being primary conflict resolution strategies (3).

All strategies are assigned to one of five categories:

  • Institutional solutions to reduce conflict, which covers specific changes to the institutional solutions architecture for the purpose of solving environmental conflicts. 
  • Increasing societal resilience, which is a more general generic conflict resolution strategy than the first and is more concerned with increasing the general capacity of a society to resolve conflicts peacefully.
  • Economic and technological adaptation, which is about economic and technological changes that increase the adaptive capacity of the society to deal with environmental change(s).
  • Foreign policy tools include third-party strategies and interventions can be utilised to reduce the intensity of the conflict.
  • Environmental peacebuilding covers conflict resolution strategies that seek to leverage adverse environmental change(s) for greater cooperation.

A complete list of all resolution strategies and a documentation on the background and selection of strategies can be found here.

Fault Lines Defining Conflict Parties:

For every conflict, this is the subset of those societal faultlines and cleavages that are important for understanding how the conflict breaks down into different actor groups. For example, the "National Faultline / International Conflict" cleavage indicates that a conflict is structured by tensions between nation-states. Similarly, a farmer-herder conflict where farmers and herders belong to different ethnicities would be marked as having a cultural and an occupational faultline. The faultlines we distinguish are the following:

  • Cultural, which broadly covers linguistic, ethnic, religious and other faultlines which are related to beliefs, norms or ethnic identity.
  • Occupational, which we code as present when different groups are in conflict because of how their occupations and livelihoods depend differently on an environmental resource or good.
  • Economic, which is a broader category than occupational and that we code as present when the conflict is structured along more general economic categories such as conflicts between richer and poorer populations.
  • Urban / Rural, which we code as present when the interests of urban and rural populations diverge and conflict actors rally around this cleavage.
  • National / international conflict for conflicts that find their expression in interstate tensions or war.
  • Sub-national political for conflicts, which we code as present when a sub-national political unit, such as a state within a federal nation state, is in conflict with the national government or another state.


Actors List:

Related to the faultlines, the Actors List is comprised of those actors of particular importance to a specific conflict and/or its resolution. On the right side of each actor bar, you can click to display the full information about an actor. Each actor has the following attributes:

  • Participant to the conflict and/or its resolution: An actor can be a party to a conflict (red dot) and/or a facilitator of conflict resolution (blue dot).
  • Functional group: An actor can be public, i.e. a government or government agency. An actor can also be commercial, i.e. a corporation. The two other categories are civil society, non-governmental organizations and other organized representations of societal interests, as well as non-state violent actor. This last category designates an actor challenging the state and/or current political elites by organized armed violence.
  • Geographical scale: This refers to the primary geographical scale at which the actor operates in the current conflict. INTERNAL-Grassroots means that the actor is primarily working in the field/the conflict locality. INTERNAL - National means that the actor works primarily at the national level, for example as a national political party. INTERNAL - International refers to an actor that acts internationally, but belongs to the conflict. A good example of this is a national government involved in a transboundary dam conflict. EXTERNAL, finally, means an actor that is not directly involved in the conflict itself but attempts to contribute to its resolution from the outside, for example an UN agency or a foreign government supporting negotiations between conflict parties. These categories may sometimes overlap and be subject to contention.


Country Data in Comparison:

To complement the qualitative case studies, we provide a selection of quantitative variables. These variables are chosen from the quantitative scientific literatures on environmental conflicts, climate change and conflict and, more generally, on the determinants of conflict and civil war.

There is fierce debate in the quantitative literature on which (environmental) variables are related to conflict (or not) and whether these relationships are causal. For this reason, we simply present these data as useful reference points. We do not claim that any of them has been clearly proven to predict conflict. Rather, we chose this selection of environmental and societal variables to give our users an easy glimpse into some of the most important variables that are frequently evoked in the debates around environmental conflicts and fragility.

A more detailed documentation on each of these variables and why we include them is provided here. In the Country Data in Comparison bar chart we try to contextualize the country data at conflict onset by putting them in relation to other countries and conflict settings. For this purpose, we perform three transformations of the data (a more technical specification is given here):

(1) We orient each variable in a way where a high value is associated with the expectation that conflict is more likely. As discussed, these expectations are not always clear or consensual in the literature and we document our choices in the discussion of variables.
(2) We normalize each variable to vary between -1 and +1 for the minimum and maximum values of all country-year observations of this variable, respectively. We do this in a way that 0 reflects the median, the middle value, of all country-year observations.
(3) Apart from calculating the median of all country-year observations to serve as 0 , we also calculate median value for all conflicts – the conflict median. This is the gray bar behind the colored bar indicating the country value. When the variable value of the country is higher than the conflict median, the country bar is colored red. When it is above 0 but below the conflict median, it is colored orange. When it is below 0, it is colored blue.

As discussed above, users should be cautious to avoid over-interpreting the degree to which these variables predict conflict. However, the normalization and median calculation provide an orientation of how an absolute value compares to the distribution of countries and conflict cases.

Two further aspects about these data are worth noting:

  • Country-Year Data: All data are county-year observations, i.e. one observation per country per year. As such, they cannot be used as exact description of the situation at the concrete conflict locality (for example, there might be an acute water scarcity in a part of the country that in general only suffers from moderate water scarcity). How well country-year observations describe the situation in the conflict locality depends in part on whether a conflict is local or national in nature (but also on general data quality which varies between countries). In the case of a local conflict, the national-level data might still prove useful to get a sense of the overall national context. We discuss this question in detail in the detailed discussion of quantitative variables. We plan to add more geographically-adjusted data in the future.
  • Conflict Onset: The data are time-varying, but we can only display a single variable value per country in the Country Data in Comparison bar chart. We chose the year of conflict onset as the reference point. The Data of Involved Countries line graphs provide a visualization of these data that allows exploring time-trends (see below).

Conflict Characterization:

The table Conflict Characterization provides additional variables that describe the general nature of the conflict. The variables listed here are selected to contextualize the conflict within existing frameworks from the scientific literature. The variable Character of the contested good captures whether the contested resource is a public good, a common-pool resource, a private good or a club good. This is based on the common typology of goods used in economics. The variables Ecological Marginalization and Resource Capture are concepts from Thomas Homer-Dixon's influential article "Environmental Scarcities and Violent Conflict" and subsequent work. The list here is neither meant to be exhaustive (we plan to add typologies in the future and are grateful for suggestions) nor is it meant as an endorsement of any particular typology. Rather, it is intended to provide an additional perspective for accessing the factbook that will hopefully be helpful for those familiar with these typologies. Every variable listed in this section is explained by a mouse-over that can be opened by hovering over the respective ?-symbol.

Data of Involved Countries:

This is the same data as for Country Data in Comparison but presented in a different format. Here, the absolute and untransformed values of the variables are displayed over time. The entire data that is available is displayed, so the display is not limited to the conflict period or the conflict onset. This allows users to look at trends and developments over time, both within country level variables (e.g. population growth in Tunisia) as well as in terms of convergence and divergence between countries (e.g. a shift in relative power between two riparians).