The Geopolitics of Energy Transition

The Geopolitics of Energy Transition

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Shilpa PM

Concerns about climate change are increasingly shaping academic debates on international relations in general and energy studies in particular. The advocates of climate mitigation action are highly criticizingthe energy sector for the adverse impacts it has created from its past emissions. On one side, the demand for energy resources has increased highly in countries such as China and India along with other developed nations, whereas on the other side, the energy sector is under high pressure due to the climate crisis. Studies show that the energy sector contributes two-third of the total greenhouse gas emissions, hence adequate mitigation actions in the field is very much essential. However countries are reluctant to sacrifice the fossil fuel driven economic growth. As debates are increasingly favouring alternatives energy development, the global energy geopolitics, conventionally reflected in the fossil fuel market has begun to change.


The geopolitical and geo-economic scenarios always made it clear that the growth rate of a country always remains directly linked to its energy consumption. Hence the need for efficient and cheap energy resources is unavoidable. For a very long period, the world energy market was depended solely on the fossil fuel sources. This made the conventionally oil rich countries Persian Gulf region the hub of energy geopolitics. However, in the recent decades, as energy has become the central element in climate mitigation, the need for energy transition gained more importance.


As early as the beginning of 1970s, following the oil crisis, countries have begun heavily investing in the alternative energy development. This was the turning point of modern energy policies in many European countries. The formation of the International Energy Agency and the search for alternative energy resources catalysed the promotion of clean energy policies in the Western world.


The proclamation of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 and the climate negotiations under the auspices of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) gave further momentum to the alternative energy development.


The recent decades witnessed the remarkable economic growth of China and India. Their energy consumption rate also increased in these years. In order to diversify their dependency on geopolitically volatile supply regions these Asian giants to make substantial changes in their domestic policies to promote alternative energy development. The global climate negotiations and their commitments under the Paris Agreement gave further impetus to alternative energy development.


Both China and India have ambitious commitments under the Paris Agreement and the major mitigation plans of these emitters are focused on the energy sector. Though fossil fuel constitute the lion’s share in the energy mix, development of renewable sources is increasingly gaining momentum. For example, in India, the contribution from solar, wind and other renewables has increased substantially in the recent years.


On the other side, China is now leads in the globalrenewable energy development. It is the largest producer and exporter of solar energy equipment. Its entry into the solar energy market is the key reason for the reduction of solar PV cells in the world market.


Countries such as Australia, Germany, and France are also highly invested in more research and development in the field of renewable energy technologies such as efficient solar batteries, electric vehicles and all. Research in the field of metallurgy is believed to bring revolution in the field of renewable energy, and leading energy industry players globally are deeply involved in research in this direction.


All these developments indicate a clear shift in the global energy landscape and the politics associated with it. Renewable energy players from across the world are competing to secure their geographical presence in newer markets to sell their technology and equipment. Innovations and research and development have been gaining more and more importance in the energy sector. Though it is difficult to predict if world will completely shift its dependency to clean energy, the remarkable growth witnessed in the alternative energy domain indicate countries and industries worldwide playing more active role in the non-conventional energy arena. All these churning ups are shaping a newer dynamics to global energy geopolitics, where alternative energy industry emerges to be key players.

Ms. Shilpa is a postgraduate student in Geopolitics and International Relations at Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Karnataka