On February 26 and 27, the Leibniz Research Network "Environmental Crisis - Crisis Environments" organized a conference workshop at the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt (PRIF). The conference, entitled "How to Deal with Environmental Crises? The Interdependence of Acute and Latent Challenges in Times of Polycrisis", aimed at discussing social and political pathways to address the increasingly dysfunctional relationship between people and their social and political environment, which are expressed in the simultaneous occurrence of immediate and long-term crises. The conference provided an opportunity for network members to bring together their interdisciplinary research, formulate questions and develop ideas in a workshop format. At the same time, the event was open to external participants and, as a conference, promoted transdisciplinary exchange by offering people from political practice, the public sector, civil society, and the interested public the opportunity to participate in the discussions.

The conference began with a keynote speech by Prof Dr Jochen Schanze (IOER), who elaborated on conceptualizations of latent and acute crises and on the potential of preventing crises by assessing them as risks. The following panel, moderated by Dr Katharina Löhr (ZALF), presented three case studies of rural development in crisis from Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, and Georgia.

Shibire Bekele Eshetu (ZALF) presented ways in which Ethiopian smallholder farmers are transforming or changing their land use in order to survive droughts economically and ensure food security. She showed how adapting land use to changing climatic conditions leads to diversification, which in turn leads to greater resilience to crises. The presentation emphasized that knowledge of land use diversification strategies comes primarily from the experience of farmers and is spread further through local networking.

Dr Mekdim D. Regassa (IAMO) followed with a presentation on the installation of cool roofs in Burkina Faso, which have proven to be effective in reducing heat stress in households. He presented findings on the resulting improvements in the prevention of food insecurity and intimate partner violence (IPV). Regassa concluded that current calculations of the costs of the climate crisis underestimate it’s true impact, including for instance long-term impacts on human capital and non-direct economic factors such as mental health.

The panel concluded with a contribution from Dr Miranda Svanidze, who sought to draw lessons from the case of Georgia, where a political crisis was observed to serve as a driver for change in the wine industry. Her study found that three conditions are important for crisis to trigger transformation: Committed change agents are the ones to be first involved. Besides, the government must provide support to enable transformation, and diversification is key to ensure the resilience of the food systems.

Impressions from day one of the workshop conference.

Day two of the conference kicked off with a panel on environment and conflict, moderated by Laura Bannan-Fischer (PRIF). Prof Dr Sabine Kurtenbach (GIGA) opened the panel with her research on Covid-19-pandemic and its linkages to conflict development in Colombia, referring to the frequent characterization as ‘polycrisis’ or ‘polypandemic’. According to Kurtenbach’s research in Colombia, the rather slowly moving pandemic with latently growing repercussions proved to be a dynamizing factor for existing trends. She concluded that Covid-19 revealed the capacity of social organization, the importance of support networks and solidarity.

Dr Stefan Kroll then presented his research on green recovery and peacebuilding in Ukraine, based on a paper co-authored with Dr Patrick Flamm (PRIF). Their work highlights the role of civil society organizations (CSOs) in the early stages of identifying and documenting environmental damage caused by the Russian war. The authors conclude that in order to prevent the instrumentalization of CSOs, which have the potential to create ownership and legitimacy at local level, cooperation between international actors and local actors must include dialogue and openness to mutual learning.

The panel continued with an input by Stefanie Wesch (PIK) on integrating climate sensitivity into peacebuilding with a regional focus on Central Asia. Her presentation added to the discussion on the role of civil society in dealing with immediate violent conflict and long-term environmental changes. She joined in highlighting the vulnerability of CSOs. Despite lacking expertise in climate-related issues, peacebuilding organizations tend to prioritize climate topics due to financial dependency on funders. However, the strong focus on climate topics in funding mobilization risks overlooking traditional conflict drivers.

Impressions from day two of the workshop conference.

The conference was finalized by the third panel, moderated by Dr Christina Eder (GESIS) and Dr Stefan Kroll, on the topic of politics and polarization in the face of climate change. Prof Dr Alexia Katsanidou (GESIS) opened the panel with a presentation on the congruence between extreme weather events and the political attitudes of voters and election candidates. The presentation showed that in recent elections in Germany, climate change has been put on the political agenda by candidates rather than voters. Her findings showed that candidates systematically misperceived the positions of their constituents, underscoring the lack of in-depth discussion.

The rise of an era of deep social conflict was then taken up by Dr Daniel Mullis (PRIF), who presented his recently published book, in which he finds the far right to be an important regressive factor in times of current and future crisis. The climate crisis, Mullis explained, challenges western societies, built on ideas of progress and mastery over nature. Protectionism regarding one's own privileges is on the rise. In this situation, far-right ideologies easily find a foothold in mainstream society, while resistance to social transformation strengthens these ideas. The challenges of our time, including the various crises and social challenges, are not to be ignored, according to Mullis, but must be addressed and dealt with politically.

Hanni Schoelermann (ECB) discussed policy perspectives on environmental crises. In 2023, three quarters of EU citizens viewed climate change as a very serious issue, with two thirds feeling their national government hasn't acted adequately. Though a priority for the European Commission, green legislation faces controversy in moderate European Parliament groups. Schoelermann emphasized the urgency of actions amid extreme environmental changes, highlighting areas like energy taxation, mitigation, adaptation, and bridging the climate insurance protection gap.

Discussions during the conference workshop particularly shed light on the role of civil society in the simultaneous management of acute and latent growing crises. Civil society plays a central role in experiencing and identifying crisis developments as well as in developing appropriate response strategies. However, civil society is also highly vulnerable due to limited resources and their localized character. The various aspects in which civil society actors need to be involved in crisis management therefore require political action in terms of coordination and strategy as well as in limiting insecurity risks and enabling for transformation.

Visit the Virtual Book Stand of this conference.

PRIF - Leibniz-Institut für Friedens- und Konfliktforschung
Baseler Str. 27-31
60329 Frankfurt am Main