How energy and climate change may pose a threat to sustainable security TAPANI vAAHTORANTA
The energy-climate era We are living in the energy-climate era. It has become evident that global trends in energy supply and consumption and the impact of our reliance on fossil fuels on the climate are unsustainable.1 Coal, oil and natural gas have long been crucial for the economic well-being of humanity. What is new is the geographical spread of industrial development, which has led to an increase in global demand for energy. Today, there are more main consumers of energy than ever before. At the same time, energy production is concentrating in fewer countries due to peak oil in old producers. Thus there is concern about energy security. Another concern is about the impact of the use of fossil fuels on the global climate. Human-induced climate change is real and its single most important cause is the concentration of carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere caused by the combustion of coal, oil and gas. The global economic crisis does not change the big picture. The increase in energy demand and greenhouse gas emissions is likely to resume when the recession is over. Energy security and climate change can also have consequences for security. One of the strongest expressions of this concern is the National Security Strategy of the United Kingdom,2 which observes that the growing global demand for energy is likely to increase competition for energy supplies with potentially serious security implications. The strategy finds it problematic that the supply of oil and gas becomes increasingly concentrated in potentially instable regions. Besides, it also identifies climate change as potentially the greatest challenge to global stability and security, and therefore to national security. It emphasizes that tackling causes of climate change and adapting to its consequences are critical to our future security, as well as to protecting global prosperity and avoiding humanitarian disaster. But what does it mean that energy and climate change may have implications for security? Any discussion of security also requires a definition of the concept. In particular, one needs to determine whether one is using a broad or narrow understanding of security. The very narrow definition of security focuses on armed conflict. For example, competition for oil has caused inter-state war in the
past. Barack Obama, who lived as a child in Jakarta, writes in his book on how Japan – after the attack on Pearl Harbor – moved to take over the Dutch East Indies (today’s Indonesia) because of its oil reserves.3 A number of other wars and violent conflicts in the twentieth century are also attributed to the competition for energy resources.4 The most recent example of an inter-state war, where oil was a major factor, is Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. According to a UNEP study, at least 18 violent intrastate conflicts have been fuelled by the exploitation of natural resources since 1990. Oil and natural gas were, or are, present in five of them.5 Climate change, too, is assumed to have the potential to cause inter-state war. A report to the Pentagon in 20036 raised the possibility of abrupt climate change that would create such severe scarcities of resources that they would lead to wars over food, water and energy. There is more recent concern about regional abundance of oil and gas. As the Arctic ice cap melts as a result of global warming, oil and gas reserves in the seabed become accessible. It is feared – especially by the press – that this development, together with the opening up of new sea routes, could trigger new geopolitical competition in the High North and possibly even lead to violent conflict between the coastal states. However, to draw a parallel between security and the war caused by competition for energy or climate change is impractical for two reasons. First, despite the dire warnings, the likelihood that a struggle to grab energy reserves or climate-induced water scarcity and migration would become a main cause of war seems small.7 Second, even if energy and climate change did not cause war, they are likely to have other adverse consequences that can be regarded as security threats. To come to grips with the security implications of energy and climate change, a definition is needed that is broader than inter-state war, but also one that avoids excess expansion of the concept. If the term “security” is broadened too much, there is a danger of labeling any problem as “insecurity.”8 There is also the need to make a distinction between energy security and the implications of energy for security. Any disruption in the supply of energy at an affordable price, for example, is not a threat to national security. Energy may also have security implications other than those that are directly linked to the security of supply. Thus energy and security is at the same time a narrower and broader concept than energy security. Clarity is also needed in discussion about the consequences of climate change. The concept of “climate security” is today used with little agreement as to what the term actually means. The view adopted here is that the reliance on fossil fuels and climate change may adversely impact on “sustainable security.”9 The concept of sustainable security combines national security, human security and collective security. National security refers to the safety of the state. Both in Europe and the United States, there is considerable concern about the potential national-security implications of dependence on foreign gas and oil. The sea-level rise caused by climate change poses an existential threat to low-lying island nations. The concept of human security draws attention to the well-being and safety of the individual. Climate change may already be killing people, particularly those in poor
countries. By using the term “collective security,” however, one refers to the entire world. The need to prevent dangerous geopolitical competition for oil and gas or runaway climate change belongs to this category of sustainable security. National security, human security and collective security are intertwined. Measures to strengthen the energy security of one state may have adverse consequences for collective security. A failure to tackle climate change would cause wide-spread human suffering in the developing world, which could result in state failures. On the following pages, five challenges for sustainable security posed by energy and climate change are discussed. First, the geopolitical implications of energy security are addressed. Second, the concern about hostile policies of energy producers is considered. Third is the implications of the resource curse for weak states, fourth are the difficulties in adapting to the consequences of inevitable climate change and the fifth challenge is the prospect of runaway climate change.