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The Geopolitics of Decarbonisation – A Report to Guide EU Foreign Policy

Coinciding with the first days the German Presidency of the European Council, on 3 July 2020 adelphi and the Institute for European Studies at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel launched a new report “The Geopolitics of Decarbonisation: Reshaping European Foreign Relations”. This summary highlights the event's key outcomes.

The starting point for the discussion was a presentation of the report’s key findings, drawn from detailed case study analyses of six fossil fuel exporting countries, as well as its recommendations for how EU foreign policy can build fruitful external relations in a decarbonising world. The latter stress the importance of using the EU’s entire diplomatic toolbox, and highlight priorities for action in five areas: climate and energy, trade and investment, science and education, finance and development, and peace and security.

Marc Vanheukelen, Ambassador at Large for Climate Diplomacy at the European External Action Service, gave a first keynote in response to the report’s findings. His intervention emphasised how

"The fossil fuel epoch… had its supply security agenda and geopolitical map. The decarbonisation era will have its agenda and map."


He outlined a number of areas where the shift to climate neutrality would have geopolitical consequences, including the fragility it would cause in fossil fuel exporting countries, the revision of existing military strategies and alliances, new security of supply concerns related to low carbon technologies, and questions of technological dominance and cybersecurity.

Caroline Kusemko, Associate Professor in International Political Economy at the University of Warwick, complemented these thoughts with a second intervention focusing on three areas. Firstly, she emphasised how the increasing diversity of available energy sources and actors was changing the geopolitics of energy and creating new opportunities for strengthening sustainable energy transitions. Secondly, she drew on a recent paper to reflect on the implications of COVID-19 for climate mitigation. And thirdly, she called for the EU to continue to embrace a leadership role in promoting global decarbonisation – both in terms of fulfilling its ambitious targets for emissions reduction, and in sharing the substantial experience and expertise it has gathered in fostering a just transition to climate neutrality.

The event concluded with a discussion with the audience, touching on issues such as the future of hydrogen, carbon border adjustments, and the role of multilateral development banks in promoting sustainable energy transitions, as well as follow-up questions on the findings from the report.

The report “The Geopolitics of Decarbonisation: Reshaping European Foreign Relations” was produced as part of the Climate Diplomacy initiative, which is supported by grant from the German Federal Foreign Office.

Further reading:

Geopolitics of Decarbonisation: Towards an Analytical Framework

An increasing number of scholars and analysts point out that the necessary decarbonisation of the global economy will impact international affairs and geopolitics. But do we agree on what geopolitics of decarbonisation is (not)? This paper draws on the literature on both geopolitics and decarbonisation to help structure the discussion and identify pertinent questions about future trends.

Geopolitics of Decarbonisation_ Towards an Analytical Framework