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ORG Explains #3: UK Energy Security and Climate Change

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Oliver Scanlan
30 April 2018


Subject

This primer explains the UK’s current energy mix, with a focus on how import dependency might affect energy security in the context of rising geopolitical tensions and a changing climate.

Context

Climate change poses a number of risks to the UK’s national security, both direct and indirect. One of the indirect risks highlighted by the scientific community is that to the UK’s energy security, due to increasing dependence on imports. Achieving self-sufficiency in energy production potentially could deliver significant security benefits by addressing the risks that stem from import dependency, quite apart from the wider importance of transitioning to a zero-carbon economy as the UK’s contribution to limiting the warming of the planet. Such benefits might include proofing the UK against sharp and unplanned reductions of supply from specific countries and regions, either due to instability or attempts at political coercion, and more generally insulating the UK from price shocks in the global energy market. This may also yield dividends in terms of resilience. At the same time, decarbonisation has the potential to increase political instability in certain regions, not least the Middle East and North Africa, depending on how effectively major hydrocarbon exporters are able to adapt. This also has direct and indirect implications for the UK’s energy security.

Key Points

  • Having been a net energy exporter for  most of the period 1981 to 2004, the UK currently relies on imports to meet over 35% of its energy requirements.
  • The dominant energy exporter to the UK is Norway, although the OPEC states are also an important source of both primary oils and Liquified Natural Gas (LNG). Russia is overall not a critical energy supplier to the UK.
  • A changing climate poses significant risks to both maritime transport of energy suppliers and centralised domestic energy infrastructure such as electricity generation plants.
  • Climate change and efforts at decarbonisation pose potentially significant political risks to the OPEC states if they are not able to diversify their economies.
  • Risks associated with a revived UK nuclear energy sector would tend to increase with climate change. Geopolitical risks related to financing, technology are also significant.
  • Transitioning to a zero-carbon and distributed renewable energy and transport infrastructure will reduce British exposure to such risks.

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Image credit: Brian Robert Marshall


About the Author

Oliver Scanlan is the Senior Programme Officer on the Sustainable Security programme at Oxford Research Group (ORG). He has worked in research and advocacy roles in the international development sector for the last ten years, with a South Asia focus. He has studied Asian politics and history at the Universities of Durham, Amsterdam and Renmin University, Beijing. 


Copyright Oxford Research Group 2017.

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