‘This is an exciting project and in many ways ground-breaking work – mapping the geopolitical risks that a green transition may entail.’

This is how NUPI Director Ulf Sverdrup describes the collaborative project Renewable Energy and Geopolitics.

The report that is being published this week is the result of a project with NUPI, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), and the universities of Columbia and Harvard. The project has focused on how a transition to renewable energy may reshape international politics, which also was the theme of a workshop NUPI co-organized with the Norwegian and German ministries of foreign affairs earlier this year.

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. The researchers estimates that the share of renewables of total primary energy reaches 30-45% in 2035 or 2040, and 50-70% in 2050.

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 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.’

Read the full report here.