The Energy and Climate Nexus: Challenges and Opportunities for Transatlantic Security
“In the post-Cold War period, the challenges of energy, environment, climate change, and water have become very much a part of our fundamental transatlantic relationship,” said CNA General Counsel Sherri Goodman, launching a new report on U.S.-EU security at the Wilson Center.
The Energy and Climate Nexus: Challenges and Opportunities for Transatlantic Security, co-authored by CNA’s Director of Latin American Affairs Ralph Espach with Duncan Depledge and Tobias Feakin of the Royal United Services Institute, defines the emerging climate-related security threats shared by the United States and Europe. Requested by the European Delegation to the United States, the report urges stronger U.S.-EU partnership and improved communication among transatlantic states.
“We are at best distracted. At worst, we are complacent,” said Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti, the special representative for climate change in the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office. “Perhaps we need a wake-up call. I would suggest that this report does just that.”
The Energy-Climate-Security Nexus
Although the recent development of shale gas in the United States may lead to declining domestic energy prices, the economies of the European Union and the United States remain vulnerable to the actions of a small number of energy-exporting countries. Some of these are unstable, and others, including Venezuela, Iran, Libya, and Saudi Arabia, have had ties to terrorist organizations. According to the report, nearly half of the U.S. transportation sector relied on foreign petroleum in 2011. Similarly, the European Union relied on natural gas for a quarter of its electricity production and imported 62 percent of that gas.
“Our report emphasizes that increasing the production and consumption of domestically produced oil and gas does nothing to de-link our economy from the rise and fall of global oil prices,” said Espach. “For decades, it has been the price of oil that has been the direct linkage between crises in the Middle East, destabilizing events around the world, and the U.S. economy.”
“Energy security and climate security are two sides of the same coin,” write the report authors. Heavy reliance on hydrocarbons creates economic vulnerabilities and burning them spurs climate change. “The last time [CO2] concentrations were this high,” the authors write, “the world was several degrees warmer and sea levels were 20-40 meters higher.”
“Future climate models show that global warming and associated extreme weather events will alter agricultural patterns, compromise critical infrastructure, uproot communities, and in some cases, elevate the chance of humanitarian crises, instability, and even armed conflict,” said U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy Daniel Chiu.
“One important way that climate change affects our collective security is by acting as a threat multiplier in other less stable and more precarious regions of the world,” Espach warned. The report cites hotspots around the world – including production centers such as Nigeria and Iraq, and choke points such as the Strait of Hormuz – where climate-related resource scarcity could worsen already difficult international and interethnic tensions.
“As climate stress worsens, it raises the risk of potentially destabilizing migratory flows that will increase the need for humanitarian assistance, which almost certainly will involve member states of the European Union and the United States,” Espach said.
Opportunities for U.S.-EU Cooperation
To address these emerging climate-security threats, the report recommends that the United States and European Union increase joint strategic planning for multinational humanitarian operations, encourage information sharing between military and civilian sectors, and publicize innovative local efforts to improve climate resilience and energy efficiency.
“The U.S. and European armed forces have been at the forefront of efforts to improve energy and fuel efficiency and to implement new battery technologies, especially in Afghanistan’s harsh environment and under combat conditions,” the authors write.
“We think about this as a near-term, operational issue,” Chiu said, pointing out that the Pentagon appointed Sharon E. Burke as the first Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy in 2010. The position, which is tasked with increasing energy efficiency and diversifying energy sources, is indicative of the high priority the defense community has put on energy security. Of particular interest are several U.S. military projects which have “pioneered” energy efficiency, including the Net Zero Emissions Program at Fort Carson, Colorado, and the USS Makin Island’s hybrid-electric propulsion system. “U.S. companies and state and local governments can benefit from these lessons,” said Espach.
“Everywhere there are local companies, politicians, and organizations that are hard at work designing and testing renewable energy technologies, implementing urban design methods, or otherwise pushing ahead county and state policies,” Espach said. He encouraged “more information dissemination, more networking among towns and cities” and “more communication about local-level experiments and initiatives so that those who are committed and innovative can share and learn from one another more effectively.”
“This report describes what we can achieve if we work together, which is much more than the sum of the parts,” said Morisetti.
Drafted by Jacob Glass, edited by Schuyler Null
Counselor, Head of Transport, Energy, Environment and Nuclear Affairs Section, European Union Delegation to the United States
Daniel Chiu //Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy, Office of the Secretary of Defense
Ralph Espach //Senior Research Scientist; Director, Latin American Affairs Program, CNA