Peaceworks: Pragmatic Peacebuilding for Climate Change Adaptation in Cities

Achim Wennmann
Posted on: 10/10/2023 - Updated on: 10/10/2023

Posted by




This report examines how to scale up and speed up climate action by leveraging peacebuilding practice for climate change adaptation. It argues that climate and peacebuilding practitioners need to focus on cities and work together to set the political ground rules for managing climate impact in cities. The report was commissioned by the Climate, Environment, and Conflict Program at the United States Institute of Peace.

The enormity of the challenge of adapting to climate change demands practical innovation. One potentially valuable step in this direction would be for the climate change community to leverage the insights and practices of peacebuilders, especially those peacebuilders accustomed to working in complex urban environments.

Urban areas have received scant attention in the adaptation community, even though most people live in cities and are likely to witness climate stresses exacerbating political tensions and fueling violence in urban environments. Cities will not be able to “securitize their way out” (i.e., rely on heavier policing and other security measures) when it comes to dealing with climate impact; instead, they need to customize peacebuilding approaches suited to the kind of systemic, transformative change that is required.

This report suggests that the approach known as “pragmatic peacebuilding”—an approach that entails dealing with the de facto realities in specific contexts as a starting point for transformational processes—is particularly useful as a framework for climate action in cities. Working politically across the full spectrum of actors to mobilize competences and capabilities outside the reach of government authorities is a critical element for speeding up and scaling up climate action in cities. Specific measures to activate pragmatic peacebuilding unfold along three lines of work: developing multidimensional programs that respond to urban complexities; strengthening coordination and collective action through instruments such as infrastructures for peace and dialogue “platforms” to facilitate interaction between different capacities and sectors in cities; and working within urban hybrid political orders that build on the legitimacy of trusted individuals and spaces.

In the fight against climate change, climate and peacebuilding practitioners should work together to broker urban political settlements to set the political ground rules for how to handle the coming climate crisis in cities. Political economy analysis will play an important role as common ground between the climate and peacebuilding communities and as an operational priority. Brokering settlements and setting ground rules would require climate change professionals to shift away from government- and institution-focused approaches and toward a more agile way of working through informal channels and with de facto powers that are able to get things done politically in the hybrid political order of cities.


Wennmann, Achim (2023). Peaceworks: Pragmatic Peacebuilding for Climate Change Adaptation in Cities. No 191. United States Institute of Peace.

Affiliated Organizations

United States Institute of Peace

Related Resources