The second episode of ‘Radio Resilience. Conversations about our ability to adapt to change‘ was about energy security, climate crisis and the link with democracy. For this exchange, held on 21 October 2022, we were joined by:
- John Conger, Director Emeritus of the Center for Climate and Security, Senior Advisor to the Council on Strategic Risks, and Senior US Advisor to the International Military Council on Climate and Security
- Michael Ruhle, Head of NATO’s Climate and Energy Section in the Emerging Security Challenges Division
- Andy Scollick, independent researcher and analyst on climate change, defence and resilience
- Alice Stollmeyer, Executive Director Defend Democracy (moderator)
Dear speakers and listeners, welcome to the second episode of #RadioResilience, a series of conversations about resilience. Resilience broadly means: our ability to adapt and respond to change. Over the course of 10 ‘Twitter Spaces’ , we will focus on what is called ‘societal resilience’, in particular in the current context of Russia’s war against Ukraine – and against Western democracies in general. Radio Resilience a Defend Democracy project and is kindly supported by NATO’s Public Diplomacy Division.
But before we kick off, let’s briefly introduce myself and our organisation. I’m Alice Stollmeyer, the founder & Executive Director of Defend Democracy, a nonpartisan civil society organisation working to defend and strengthen democracy against foreign, domestic and technological threats.
The first episode of Radio Resilience was a general introduction to the theme of our ‘resilience’, especially to so-called hybrid threats. Hybrid threats combine military and non-military as well as covert and overt means, including disinformation, cyber attacks, economic pressure, deployment of irregular armed groups and use of regular forces. So… that’s kind of what Russia is doing since at least 2008.
The idea of #RadioResilience is to help increase our resilience — by better understanding of what these hybrid challenges are, but also by learning about the actions and measures taken by the EU, by NATO and their member states; about the importance of working on resilience together; and by giving some hope and moral support in challenging times.
Our next conversations are about some of these ‘hybrid’ challenges more concretely. What are they, and what can we do about them? Today’s topic is on the link between democracy, energy security & climate crisis, and we have 3 speakers. Welcome Andy, John, and Michael!
Let’s start with energy security, especially in the current context of Russia’s war against Ukraine. What is energy security, what exactly is the problem these days, and why can withholding energy be qualified as a hybrid threat?
Energy security is the constant availability of and access to reliable, affordable, safe and protected supplies of energy and the resources from which we derive that energy. Energy security is very much part of building and maintaining societal and economic resilience.
It is the opposite of energy insecurity or vulnerability – that is, exposure and sensitivity to interruptions of energy supplies.
Energy security has been the constant back drop to Russia’s invasion and occupation of Ukraine since 2014. It came to prominence in the lead up to the 24 February full-scale invasion with Putin’s threats regarding Nord Stream 2 and supply by Gazprom in general.
As part of Russia’s foreign policy, the weaponisation of gas supplies is nothing new: Russia withheld supplies to Ukraine in 2006 and 2009 in order to apply political leverage to the capitals. Given Ukraine’s status as a transit country, this had and still as a knock-on effect to the EU.
The problem is that Europe – not just Germany – put its eggs in one basket and willingly became dependent on cheap Russian gas. However, and despite the warnings of numerous observers, too little was done to diversify Europe’s energy supplies and develop alternative sources. Leading to the current energy crisis, which is an exacerbation of an existing crisis that has its origins in the downturn in demand during the Covid pandemic.
My take on the hybrid threat aspect is that energy supply is one of many tools of Russian foreign policy. One that dates back to Russia’s “energy bridge” to Europe during the Cold War. The weaponisation of Nord Stream 2 stretches back to 2014 following Russia’s annexation of Crimea. It was used as a lever against German policy toward Ukraine, resulting in the so-called “Steinmeier formula” and lack of political will to fully assist Ukraine in its defence. This was from fear of angering the Russian Bear and provoking it to turn down the gas taps, which it did on several occasions regardless.
The Nord Stream 2 tool was part of a broader “hybrid” toolkit that includes information operations, PMC Wagner mercenaries operating in Africa and so forth. As we saw just a few weeks ago, the sabotage of both NS1 and NS2 pipelines in the Baltic Sea has come in response to the firmness of European sanctions and determination to stay the course with Ukraine.
Presumed Russian drones in the vicinity of Norwegian North Sea oil and gas infrastructure, plus the occasional mysterious breakage of subsea communications cables in the NE Atlantic do appear to be a form of messaging. The message is that we are vulnerable: Our energy infrastructure, especially offshore and subsea, is vulnerable to disruption from an enemy. If anything, this is more disturbing than Putin’s nuclear sabre-rattling. Why? Because energy is central to our civilisation: it always has been. That, of course, leads to the interconnected issue of climate change.
From a consumer’s perspective, energy security means having sufficient energy available at an affordable price. One way to achieve this is for the customer to diversify the sources from which to buy one’s energy. However, Russia has enjoyed a unique place in Europe’s energy landscape, as it provided a large amount of the continent’s gas. This has allowed Moscow to play power politics with some nations, for example by charging prices according to political preferences.
In the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, Russia also used gas as part of its hybrid strategy, for example by withholding gas supplies to Ukraine or taking over Ukrainian offshore gas drilling rigs in the Black Sea. In the months leading to the attack on Ukraine, Russia reduced the amount of gas to Europe. Clearly, the idea behind this was to put pressure on Europe in order to refrain from supporting Ukraine. While this approach did not work, it is legitimate to name energy as one tool in a larger hybrid toolbox.
Now let’s move on to the climate crisis. I guess we all know why global warming is a problem, but for those not following the latest scientific data and policy debates: how bad is it?
Very bad. The latest International Energy Agency projection for 2022 is a less than 1% increase in CO2 emissions globally. By now we needed to be at the stage of significant atmospheric decarbonisation if we are to stand a chance of restricting global heating to the average of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial times. Currently, according to numerous researchers and sources we are on a trajectory toward about 2 °C by mid-century and 2 to 4 degrees by 2100. And that’s for an optimistic scenario in which governments fully and effectively implement the climate actions they say they are committed to under the Paris Agreement.
If we have more pandemics, more crises and economic downturns, more recidivism and too slow a pace of energy transition, then higher emissions levels will push us to between 4 and 6 degrees by 2100. And that is the global “average” of temperatures over both land and ocean masses. Europe, according to the EEA, is already 2 °C hotter than pre-industrial times. So, are we looking at an extra 5 degrees or more by century’s end? Probably yes.
Therefore, we need to start planning for a 4-degree °C hotter world and even hotter temperatures across Europe, China, much of Africa and the Arctic. We need to plan for some 3.5 billion refugees forced to migrate by climate change impacts and associated extreme weather events by 50 years from now, in the 2070s. That is, if we want to manage mass displacement and migration humanely. The social, economic and ecological pressures that migration will cause will be like nothing experienced before in human history. We are heading for a state of perpetual conflict if we don’t act now.
Our ‘Radio Resilience’ series is about resilience. More precisely, about societal and civil resilience. Now, very generally speaking, resilience means the ability to adapt to change. What does it mean in the current situation of energy crisis and climate crisis?
Adaptation and resilience are different, particularly in a security context. Adaptation is a change to fit the new environment, while resilience is the ability to endure the stresses imposed by that environment and keep on operating.
I work with system’s approaches, specifically complex adaptive systems. Resilience is very powerful and often misunderstood concept. Whether we’re talking about an ant colony, ecosystem, human society, economy, technological-based culture, a state, government, military or, indeed, the entire Earth System. Put simply, resilience is the capacity of a system to deal with change and continue to develop in a world facing many challenges and uncertainties. More specifically, resilience is the capacity of a system to persist by absorbing, resisting and recovering from disturbances and shocks while adapting to, managing and, when necessary, initiating transformational change. It is the capacity that enables a system to retain and develop the same fundamental functions, internal structure, external relations and, therefore, system identity.
There are a handful of key system characteristics that serve as sources of resilience. These are:
- Redundancy: overlapping and duplicated attributes that serve as insurance and backups.
- Modularity, which is the tendency to form multiple functional parts that can, to some extent, behave and evolve independently of each other.
- Diversity, which spreads risk by providing the building blocks for adaptive responses over time.
- Novelty and innovation are critical for creating adaptive capacity and maintaining resilience.
- Social capital, which together with social memory and social learning, is essential to a social or social-ecological system’s capacity to respond to, shape and create change.
What is the link between climate security, or climate resilience, and energy security? And how is this related to our overall security, and to our resilience as a society?
Climate security and energy security are very different things, but there is a set of solutions that they share. Renewable energy, generated locally, provides not only energy security – reducing the reliance on external sources of fuel – but long term climate security by reducing carbon emissions today.
In a simplified way, the link is the Energy Transition: by replacing fossil fuel sources with renewable energy sources, including wind, solar, hydro and geothermal, we are dispensing with the biggest greenhouse gas emissions. That is exactly what we must be doing and, in many cases, are doing. In turn, the Energy Transition should – if planned and managed well – provide us with much greater energy security. The two are inseparable. They are interdependent. And fundamental to societal resilience.
However, there is a problem, another “Inconvenient Truth”. That is, that the Energy Transition is all about renewable energy and clean, green technologies. Wind turbines, storage batteries, solar panel arrays, control systems, energy hubs, distribution systems and, of course, consumer electronics and the array of electrified devices our societies depend on ALL involve critical raw materials. Materials such as lithium, cobalt, graphite, indium, and rare earth elements… a long list. They are the “new oil”. Geopolitical competition for control over access to sources and supplies of critical raw materials will grow. Like fossil fuels, they are finite not renewable resources. There are limited source sites and they are not spread evenly around the world.
As pressures of climate change – heatwaves, droughts, wildfires, storms, floods – increase; as the numbers of people forced to migrate and abandon uninhabitable tracts of land increase; as energy becomes a matter of life and death. The potential for conflict grows. Armed conflict. Including between states, and non-state actors such as mercenary groups, corporations and extremist groups. Are we facing a potential Dystopian nightmare, something akin to Mad Max meets Hothouse Earth and a fight for control over critical raw materials? I would argue that to some extent, yes we are. But we have the power and understanding to pre-empt that scenario and manage it. That’s where NATO, the EU and other institutions of security and governance come in. But we need to start planning now.
For NATO, resilience has moved centre stage. NATO’s core business is deterrence and defence, but without resilient allies, it could not do its job. A nation needs to have resilient energy, food and water supplies, it needs to have mechanisms in place to ensure continuity of government in a crisis, etc. Without this kind of resilience, the military of that country would be rendered ineffective. Hence, NATO has developed resilience guidelines that allow the member nations to undergo a self-test to check whether they are sufficiently prepared. Climate change is posing additional challenges for NATO’s collective resilience. That’s why we need to push for greater awareness of the impacts of climate change on security, and for mainstreaming climate considerations into all aspects of NATO’s business, from defence planning and operations all the way to our resilience work.
What are EU, NATO and governments doing to address these interlinked crises of our dependence on Russian fossil fuels and the climate emergency? What is the way to tackle both crises at once, without delaying our climate commitments because of the current energy security situation?
First, we need to reduce the role of Russia in our energy mix. This is currently being done, and at an astounding speed. We are also reducing Russian fuel from our militaries. Second, we need to reduce the role of fossil fuel in general, by gradually bringing more renewables or other cleaner solutions into the mix. Again, the military must be part of this transition, and there are many interesting technologies out there that can indeed make the military greener, without indulging in “greenwashing”. And, third, we must get better at saving energy. Again, this also pertains to the military, which is already experimenting with new technologies but also with behavioural changes that amount in lower energy consumption. My key point is: climate change is caused by technology, and it will also be mitigated largely by technology.
It’s important for people to recognise that making the military more efficient and lowering its emissions do not have to come with lower capability. More efficiency leads to greater capability. Militaries are finding that electric vehicles have advantages in certain operations, for example, because they operate quietly. Renewable energy on military installations provides more resilience and can lower costs.
Good to hear that you all agree that speeding up the energy transition – less energy demand, more energy efficiency, and more renewable energy production and use – is the answer to both challenges at once.
Is there a link between democracy, energy security and climate crisis? How?
The link to these crises and democracy is that government capacity and legitimacy has been demonstrated to help nations endure climate stress. Democratic governments, therefore, are less likely to devolve into instability when climate stresses become severe.
I would go further and deeper and say that there’s a link between energy security, climate change and civilisation itself. Regardless of democracy, autocracy or any other system of governance and power, unless we address the interdependent energy and climate crisis, there can be no security in future, at all. If we allow our planet to tip into a Hothouse system state, society – what’s left of it – is more likely to be one of tribalism and violent competition. Not even the super-wealthy few will be able to have security under such circumstances. Democracy is a plural approach to governance and more: learning, knowledge and collective will. It seems fairly clear that if we lose democracy, the game’s over. We absolutely have to defend and promote forms of collective societal decision-making and governance. We need democracy.
Yes, there is a link. Just look at how worried some European governments are when they have to contemplate the possibility of public unrest during the winter. Some radical parties will try to benefit from the widespread concern over high energy prices. And if the next winter gets really cold, some who previously supported Ukraine in its fight for survival may change their mind and argue for the resumption of Russian gas supplies. By the same token, some will also argue that climate change is a long-term problem, but that in the short run all that mattered was sufficient energy for the cold season. These views are not majority views, however, and governments must not give in to them.
Given that the Kremlin is using energy as a weapon: what can democracies do to tackle this hybrid threat? Let’s break this question up in parts: What can governments do? What can the private sector do? And what can we, as citizens and as civil society, do?
Governments can do more foresight and extend their strategic planning horizons to 25, 50 and 100 years instead of the current 5 to 10 years. They can speed things up, for example, by diverting finances and resources into driving the Energy Transition. And removing obstacles, such as to planning. But also by providing effective systems of incentives. Some strong vision and leadership would be welcome!
The private sector can lobby governments for action: more supports, more incentives, more guidance. As citizens, we can also lobby governments. We must, because if we don’t care, then politicians aren’t going to care either. The issues are so huge, we feel very small. But together we can exert the necessary influence.
What can civil society do as a whole? Talk more and hopefully agree more. Only by talking openly and honestly about the existential threats of climate change and energy insecurity and resulting conflicts can we even begin to address them. We need the Energy Transition embedded in every civil, governmental and military process and structure we can, at every level, from local through to global. We’re all in this boat together. Only Elon Musk will be on Mars. The rest of us are staying here.