The next climate war? Statecraft, security, and weaponization in the geopolitics of a low-carbon future

Elsevier, Energy Strategy Reviews, Volume 45, January 2023
Sovacool B.K., Baum C., Low S.

The impacts of global climate change on international security and geopolitics could be of historic proportion, challenging those of previous global threats such as nuclear weapons proliferation, the Great Depression, and terrorism. But while the evidence surrounding the security impacts of climate change is fairly well-understood and improving, less is known about the security risks to climate-technology deployment. In this study, we focus on the geopolitical, security, and military risks facing negative emissions and solar geoengineering options. Although controversial, these options could become the future backbone of a low-carbon or net-zero society, given that they avoid the need for coordinated or global action (and can be deployed by a smaller group of actors, even non-state actors), and that they can “buy time” for mitigation and other options to be scaled up. We utilize a large and diverse expert-interview exercise (N = 125) to critically examine the security risks associated with ten negative emission options (or greenhouse gas removal technologies) and ten solar geoengineering options (or solar radiation management technologies). We ask: What geopolitical considerations does deployment give rise to? What particular military applications exist? What risks do these options entail in terms of weaponization, misuse, and miscalculation? We examine such existing and prospective security risks across a novel conceptual framework envisioning their use as (i) diplomatic or military negotiating tools, (ii) objectives for building capacity, control, or deterrence, (iii) targets in ongoing conflicts, and (iv) causes of new conflicts. This enables us to capture a far broader spectrum of security concerns than those which exist in the extant literature and to go well beyond insights derived from climate modelling or game theory by drawing on a novel, rich, and original dataset of expert perceptions.