New Geopolitical Conflicts Will Arise With Energy Turnaround
David Rothkopf | Foreign Policy | August 2009
In order to solve the biggest security risks globally a change in the use and distribution of energy resources is increasingly necessary. Most people now agree that energy needs to be produced with a low carbon emission in the future although the problems and challenges linked with this turnaround are rarely discussed. Indeed, the transition to ‘green' energy bears with it conflict potential and geopolitical tensions. Some examples of which are:
‘Green' tariff wars: Protectionism is a constantly evolving phenomenon in the field of renewable energy. The recently passed US climate law contains provisions for setting up trade barriers, in case other states do not abide by the emission limits agreed upon. In particular, conflicts are set to arise between the industrialized countries and the emerging markets. During the autumn of 2008, whilst the EU was considering limiting the import of biofuel because of environmental concerns, eight developing countries threatened to take legal action.
Decline of the oil states: Eventful years lie ahead for the oil producing countries as an expected appreciation of the oil price to a level of US$250 per barrel will cause state funds to grow heavily. But the downfall is unstoppable. The end of the oil economy brings with it the risk of both political and social conflict that could quickly expand to de-stabilize regional blocks.
Nuclear shock waves: The successful transition to low emission energy production requires the expansion and greater proliferation of nuclear power. Its renaissance has quickly gathered pace - especially in the energy hungry emerging markets, where more than two thirds of the planned nuclear power facilities are being built. However, with every new project comes a greater risk that the technology will fall into the wrong hands as terrorism becomes an increasing threat.
Water scarcity: Some forms of energy are enormously expensive such as the generation of biofuel. A solution to this would be for states to start conserving water. This will inevitably lead to interstate conflict with bordering nations. By 2030 it is already estimated that two thirds of the world's population will live in what is described as water poverty. It is increasingly becoming apparent that water will be the new oil, not least because of its high conflict potential.
Lithium Shortage: In the US, Europe and Asia, hybrid and electric vehicles are gaining popularity. However, their long term success depends on the battery capacity. The latest technological update is the lithium-ion battery that could make lithium one of the most in demand commodities of the 21st century. One of the biggest deposits is situated in the South American Atacama desert, a territory whose ownership is disputed by both Chile and Bolivia. A conflict over access to this commodity could quickly result in supply shortages. For example, China and Russia, who both dispose of important reserves could profit from such a solution.
This summary was prepared by the Atlantic Community editorial team
from "Is a Green World a Safer World?: A Guide to the Coming Green Geopolitical Crises" published here by Foreign Policy.