EU Foreign Policy in a Changing Climate: A Climate and Energy Strategy for Europe's Long-Term Security

Success of EU foreign policy hinges on climate and energy security

European leaders are set to agree on a new EU Global Strategy at the end of June. Europe’s interests have fundamentally changed since the last European Security Strategy in 2003. The prosperity, security and freedom that the previous strategy boasted about is becoming increasingly challenged. Europe is continuing to struggle to reboot growth, investment and employment after the worst financial and economic crisis since World War II. A wave of instability across the Middle East and North Africa is unleashing war, human suffering and the massive displacement of people.

Against this backdrop, it is increasingly evident that Europe’s global strategic interests have become inseparable from managing climate risk and the global energy transition. The growing urgency of delivering climate security and an orderly energy transition require a reset of EU foreign policy objectives. These issues need to have higher priority, stronger support capacity and consistent mainstreaming across all aspects of EU foreign policy.

No security without climate security

Climate change is already undermining European internal security through an upwards trend in the frequency and intensity of heat waves, droughts and flooding. Across Europe they have increased by 60% over the past three decades causing thousands of human losses and significant economic disruption. The European Commission agreed that unless action is taken now the economic cost to European cities, which host 78% of the EU’s citizens and generate 85% of its GDP, could reach over €190 billion annually by 2070.

European security could be also jeopardised by the collapse of the oil and gas producing economies. Falling demand and volatile prices are undermining the basis of stability as they are overwhelmingly dependent on oil and gas revenues to fund social spending, such as food and energy subsidies, and meeting debt repayments. Many of EU suppliers’ countries are fragile states ruled by repressive and autocratic regimes with poor records on democracy, civil rights, media freedom, development and gender equality. The ongoing support of elite groups who use fossil fuel wealth to maintain power and repress access to basic rights poses a huge problem to the credibility of European diplomacy.


In 2014, generation from new renewables installed over the past 10 years delivered gas savings equivalent to more than half the EU annual import capacity of Nord Stream 2 or 200% that of the Southern Gas Corridor. This led to a reduction of CO2 emissions equivalent to the yearly GHG emissions of Poland.

As Europe faces a rapid energy transition, its energy security, technological leadership and competitiveness will depend on clean investment, cost reductions, low carbon trade, and market growth to safeguard its future.

This report reminds EU leaders that if left unmanaged, climate change and a disorderly energy transition could undermine the foundations of Europe’s security and prosperity.

The way forward

The Paris Agreement was a significant achievement of EU diplomacy and multilateralism. It makes us safer but not safe. Without continued efforts to increase ambitions the world risks facing temperature increases of up to 3.7°C to 2100. This level of warming risks breaching tipping points, resulting in unmanageable economic and security impacts across the globe. While the US and China are scaling up their investment in climate and energy diplomacy and cooperation, Europe is losing ground and is no longer the global engine for clean energy investment. In 2015, they shrunk by 58% compared to 2010, its weakest level since 2006. At this critical time the EU should step up commitments to stay secure and prosperous. 

Managing climate risk and an orderly global energy transition must be central threads running throughout EU foreign policy. The new discussion paper “EU foreign policy in a changing climate – A climate and energy strategy for Europe’s long-term security” sets out how:

  1. The European External Action Service (EEAS) should use the lessons of Paris to rebuild confidence in multilateralism and redesign its approaches to other international negotiations. This requires developing an integrated diplomatic strategy to support other countries to ramp up their climate contributions and to review the EU’s domestic commitments.
  2. Climate change is already driving an upwards trend in the frequency and intensity of heat waves, droughts and flooding hitting European citizens and undermining the stability of neighbours. EU institutions and Member States need a new approach to climate risk both to reduce the probability of bad outcomes, including worst-case scenarios, and to manage the potential severity of their consequences.  
  3. Fossil fuels suppliers are dependent on fossil fuels revenue to maintain their internal stability. Europe has a strategic interest in managing the orderly transition of fossil fuels producing countries whose fragility will be exacerbated by increasing climate impacts and successful climate policy. This is particularly important for the wider neighbourhood, including Russia. The EU should work together with them to help diversify their economies through sustainable investment packages and make them more resilient to future climate shocks.
  4. Europe’s security rests on its neighbours’ stability. Ensuring the stability of Europe’s neighbourhood requires ensuring sustainable investment, including developing resilient infrastructure, food, water and energy systems and addressing unemployment and low growth. This investment will directly benefit the EU through business opportunities for EU companies and integrating energy markets.

Delivering existing commitments will require at least $2 trillion over the next 15 years in clean energy and achieving global growth expectations $90 trillion in infrastructure investment. Europe needs access to clean markets to stay prosperous. Global trade in clean technology and growth of resilient infrastructure markets needs to become the core focus of EU energy and climate diplomacy and finance.

Read the full report EU foreign policy in a changing climate.

This summary has originally been published on E3G.