[CARLOS PASCUAL and EVIE ZAMBETAKIS] Since the industrial revolution, the geopolitics of energy—who supplies and reliably secures energy at affordable prices—has been a driver of global prosperity and security. Over the coming decades, energy politics will determine the survival of life as we know it on our planet. 

The political aspect of energy, linked to the sources of supply and demand, comes to public attention at moments of crisis. When unstable oil markets drive up prices and volatility hinders long-run investment planning, politicians hear their constituents protest. But energy politics have become yet more complex. Transportation systems, particularly in the United States, are largely reliant on oil, so disruption of oil markets can bring a great power to a standstill. Access to energy is critical to sustaining growth in China and India—to employ the hundreds of millions who remain poor and to keep pace with burgeoning populations. Failure to deliver on the hope of greater prosperity could unravel even authoritarian regimes—and even more so democratic ones—as populations become more educated and demanding.

Two of the major global energy consumers, the United States and the European Union, have similar needs but different practical perspectives on energy imports. The United States is overly dependent and focused on oil, with consequent special attention to the Middle East. The EU is highly reliant on imported gas, making Russia an important supplier and factor in the EU’s energy policies and raising tensions particularly between Germany and the central European states. Before the onset of the 2008 financial crisis, rising demand for oil and gas imports and limited capacity to expand short-term supply drove up prices, supplier wealth, and producer leverage, allowing producers such as Russia, Venezuela and Iran to punch above their weight in regional and international politics. With the current slowdown in global demand from at least the traditional demand centers in Europe and the United States, lower oil prices have rattled the economies and politics of producer states that have come to depend on large export revenues to maintain stability at home and support muscular foreign policies abroad. That is especially poignant in countries like Iran and Venezuela, which highly subsidize social programs and fuel at the expense of economic growth and diversification. 

Traditional geopolitical considerations have become even more complex with global climate change. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has documented that the use of fossil fuels is the principal cause of increases in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, which in turn are driving up the mean temperature of the planet. A changing global climate is already resulting in significant loss of glaciers and shrinkage of polar icepacks. It will lead to severe flooding in some places and drought in others, which will devastate many countries’ food production, encourage the spread of various illnesses, and cause hundreds of thousands of deaths each year, particularly for those living in the developing world. Nearly 2 billion people were affected by weather-related disasters in the 1990s, and that rate may double in the next decade. At the same time as countries are competing for energy, they must radically change how they use and conserve energy. The politics of the debate over scrambling to secure hydrocarbon resources versus reducing consumption through efficiency and use of alternatives—particularly how to pay for the cost and dissemination of new technologies and how to compensate those who contribute little to climate change but will experience its most severe effects—is emerging as a new focal point in the geopolitics of energy. 

Ironically, volatile oil and gas prices and the actions that must be taken to address climate change—namely, pricing carbon at a cost that will drive investment, new technology, and conservation to control its emission—will drive another existential threat: the risk of nuclear proliferation. Higher energy and carbon prices will make nuclear power a more attractive option in national energy strategies, and the more reliant that countries become on nuclear power, the more they will want to control the fuel cycle. The risk of breakout from civilian uses of nuclear power to weaponization will increase dramatically, as will the risk of materials and technology getting into the hands of terrorists. 

Confronting these challenges requires an understanding of the fragility of international oil and gas markets and also of the nexus among energy security, climate change, and nuclear energy and proliferation. This chapter addresses that interconnection and the kinds of measures that will be needed to ensure a politically, economically, and environmentally sustainable energy strategy. [DOWNLOAD COMPLETE]