'This is an exciting project and in many ways ground-breaking work – mapping the geopolitical risks that a green transition may entail.’ That  is  how  NUPI Director Ulf Sverdrup describes the collaborative project Renewable Energy and Geopolitics.

NUPI has co-organized a workshop on this topic, together with the Norwegian and German ministries of foreign affairs, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), and the universities of Columbia and Harvard. The workshop focuses on how a transition to renewable energy may reshape international politics. If a large-scale transition to renewable energy can be achieved, this may lead to dramatic changes in world politics as well as at the national level. 

International cooperation

‘We are very glad that NUPI can be working together with some of the best research communities in the world, and with IRENA not least. IRENA plays an important part in the green transition’, Sverdrup notes.

This workshop, held in Berlin 22–23 March, brings together top experts to exchange views and information, sum up what is known and discuss directions for further analysis.

‘Germany is now chairing the G20, and has emphasized the importance of strengthening international climate cooperation. That’s one reason for arranging this gathering in Berlin and in connection with the G20 energy discussions. We at NUPI are grateful to the German and Norwegian ministries of foreign affairs for extensive support to this cooperative project’, Sverdrup adds.

Energy conflict

‘Energy has been associated with armed conflict since the First World War, when Churchill’s decision to shift the British Navy from coal to oil was decisive for the outcome of the war. And in the Second World War, the fierce battle of Stalingrad was a result of the Nazi attempts to cut off Soviet oil supplies from the Caspian. In a world no longer dependent on fossil fuels, such conflicts will be less relevant. That is a dramatic geopolitical change. In addition, it is interesting to ask whether and which new types of conflicts may arise’, explains Indra Øverland, project manager of Renewable Energy and Geopolitics and Head of NUPI's Energy Programme.

Øverland notes that the green transition has already had serious consequences for some countries: ‘Consumption of fossil fuels has begun to stagnate in Europe and the USA. Combined with the shale revolution, this contributed to the 2014–2016 collapse of oil prices and the weakening of governments in countries such as Nigeria and Venezuela. And Saudi Arabia is attempting a dramatic transformation of its society and economy.

New challenges

Researchers at NUPI are working with several geopolitical issues related to the green transition. Ulf Sverdrup lists some of them:

‘Some petro-states may become more unstable and vulnerable, and there may be shortages of and struggles for new minerals. New distribution systems may create new vulnerabilities, for example in connection with digitalization and cyber. NUPI researchers are also investigating at how international institutions and international cooperation best facilitate an Energiwende.’

New balance of power?

‘A transition to renewable energy may dramatically reduce the revenues of coal-, oil- and possibly gas-exporting countries, while reducing the expenditure of countries that currently import fossil fuels’, adds Øverland.

He goes on to explain that this may change the balance of economic power in the world:

‘If renewable energy is sourced mainly from local supplies, international interdependency may also be reduced, as well as the drivers for Western engagement in the oil-rich countries of the Middle East, the former Soviet Union and Latin America. On the other hand, if renewable energy is transported across borders in the form of electricity, hydrogen or some other energy carrier, new dependencies and energy security vulnerabilities may arise.’