This Request for Applications (RfA) seeks grant applications to support research that will increase the overall understanding of the complex relationships between the environment, violent conflict, and peacebuilding. With the launch of its new Environment and Conflict program, USIP will support groundbreaking research with clear potential to improve policy and practice that addresses how changes in the natural environment influence the risks of violent conflict. USIP is primarily interested in expanding knowledge about how changes in the natural environment affect the relationship between state and society, as well as the relationship between groups (ethnic, religious, or other identities) in society. In addition, USIP seeks to better understand how the experience of violent conflict weakens a society’s capability to cope with consequences of a changing environment (e.g. increasing resource scarcity or consequences from climate change). Proposals for research that improve the understanding of these linkages while also shedding light on entry points for more effective peacebuilding strategies are especially welcome.

This RfA organizes illustrative research questions into four categories: (1) environmental peacebuilding; (2) civil society and international organizations; (3) natural resource management and governance; and (4) social inclusion/exclusion.

Problem Statement

What are the consequences of increasing environmental crises in fragile contexts across the globe? A growing body of cross-national research has produced evidence showing how changes in climate influence the risks of violent conflict.[1] At the sub-national level, other types of changes in the natural environment affect conflict dynamics, too. For example, climate-induced degradation of pasture may contribute to herders altering grazing migration routes, bringing them into increased competition with farmers—a dynamic that has played out violently in Nigeria’s Middle Belt region. At the same time that environmental changes may exacerbate the risks for violent conflict, recent research and field practice demonstrate that responses to environmental shocks that bring opposing groups or states together has the potential to open new ground for cooperation, trust building, and reconciliation.[2] Environmental peacebuilding has been attempted with varying results in conflict zones around the world, including USIP priority countries in Asia[3],  the Middle East[4], and Africa[5]. Against this backdrop, USIP seeks policy-relevant research with the potential to inform and improve policy and programs that seek to prevent, mitigate, or resolve violent conflict exacerbated by changes in the natural environment.

Summary of Illustrative Research Questions

  1. Environmental Peacebuilding: What tools and approaches for environmental protection or natural resource management are the most effective when building peace between conflicting parties and increasing resilience in communities affected by conflict? How can practitioners and policymakers best design and implement conflict zone interventions that increase trust and understanding, cultivate interdependence, and build sustainable institutions? What conflict resolution approaches have demonstrated success in preventing violence between groups when environmental changes have altered access to or availability of natural resources?
  2. Civil Society and International Organizations: What role can grassroots community organizations play in preventing environment-related violent conflict – and how can the international community best support and amplify these voices? What international structures and processes can best impact transnational environmental peacebuilding efforts? What strategies and actions can civil society and grassroots groups undertake to elevate popular concerns over environmental changes, motivate changes in policy to promote greater sustainability and resilience, and reduce the risks of violent outbreaks in the face of environmental stresses?
  3. Natural Resource Management and Governance: What are potential natural resource management and governance approaches to mitigate the direct and indirect effects of climate change, minimize their potential contribution to violence, and prevent a compounding cycle of fragility? Who are the key stakeholders and decision makers, and how do they find common ground? How can policymakers best implement natural resource management regimes that address the needs of vulnerable communities and populations?
  4. Social Inclusion/Exclusion: How are marginalized communities affected by environmental shocks and stressors? What approaches (e.g. governance, dispute resolution) exist to address the adverse consequences of environmental changes on marginalized groups?

Application Requirements

Only academic institutions and nonprofit organizations are eligible to apply. Applicants should have demonstrated experience in research and a strong record of scholarship related to environment, conflict, and peacebuilding. Applications will be selected based on their potential to make original contributions to the field by directly addressing one or more of the four listed topics above. USIP values qualitative, quantitative, and participatory research approaches. All concept notes must be submitted in English. 

Registration, Application Process, and Due Dates

  1. The application process begins with registration. Registration is required for all applicants to this competition. Registration opens on Friday, December 20, 2019. All applicants must register online by Wednesday, January 22, 2020 at 5:00 pm EST. 
  2. After completing the registration, all applicants must submit a Concept Note. Concept Notes are limited to 1,500 words or less. The deadline for the Concept Note requirement is Wednesday, January 29, 2020 at 5:00 pm EST. Further instructions on completing the Concept Note template are included in USIP’s online application system FLUXX. USIP will not be able to provide status updates on submitted concept notes at any time.
  3. USIP will review all Concept Notes and invite selected applicants to submit full grant applications based on the assessed potential of the proposed research to advance understanding on any of the research questions contained in this RfA. All selected applicants will be notified no later than Friday, February 28, 2020. Deadline for the full proposal will be Wednesday, March 25, 2020.

Project Details

USIP will seek applications in two categories: exploratory projects with budgets between $75,000 - $100,000 and advanced research projects with budgets between $225,000 - $300,000. Project implementation periods can range up to 24 months. Please direct questions about this RfA or usage of USIP’s online grants management system to

[1] Mach, Katharine J., Caroline M. Kraan, W. Neil Adger, Halvard Buhaug, Marshall Burke, James D. Fearon, Christopher B. Field et al. "Climate as a risk factor for armed conflict." Nature (2019): 1.

[2] Ide, Tobias. "Does environmental peacemaking between states work? Insights on cooperative environmental agreements and reconciliation in international rivalries." Journal of Peace Research 55, no. 3 (2018): 351-365.

[3] Stanfield, J. David, Jennifer Brick Murtazashvili, M. Y. Safar, Akram Salam, J. Unruh, and R. Williams. "Community documentation of land tenure and its contribution to state-building in Afghanistan." Land and post-conflict peacebuilding (2013): 265-285.

[4] Mehyar, Munqeth, Nader Al Khateeb, Gidon Bromberg, and Elizabeth Koch-Ya’ari. "Transboundary cooperation in the Lower Jordan River Basin." Water and post-conflict peacebuilding (2014).

[5] Refisch, Johannes, and Jonhann Jensen. "Transboundary collaboration in the Greater Virunga Landscape: From gorilla conservation to conflict-sensitive transboundary landscape management." Governance, natural resources, and post-conflict peacebuilding (2016): 825-41.