This course addresses the international dimension of the energy transition. Renewables and other innovative energy technologies such as hydrogen production or CCS increasingly influence politics at the international level. Conversely, international politics and governance influences the energy transition at the domestic level. Setting the right framework-conditions internationally may hence contribute to a swift, just, and peaceful transition. For example, the realization of the Paris Agreement (climate change) and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) pose new and significant economic, political, and societal challenges.
Starting with theoretical concepts such as energy security and energy interdependence, the course studies the international implications of the energy transition. The discussion covers different geographies and actors. This includes bilateral relations, international agreements, the role of international organisations (e.g. IRENA), and multilateral diplomatic initiatives (e.g. the International Solar Alliance). By studying individual cases from different theoretical angles, the course aims at developing a better understanding of the ‘geopolitics of the energy transition’.
Course description for study year 2023-2024. Please note that changes may occur.
Energy has been described as the universal currency of our planet (Vaclav Smil). Its availability and conversion represents a fundamental prerequisite of economic processes. Given the relatively high energy density of fossil fuels, the use of carbon-based primary energy has greatly expanded the economy of those countries that possess the technology necessary for its extraction and conversion.
By transitioning from energies with relatively low energy densities (e.g. coal) to such with an ever-higher energy density (e.g. oil), the expansion of the economy could be maintained for decades. Towards its later stages, this process culminated in the introduction of nuclear energy, which contemporaries interpreted as the dawn of a world of unlimited productivity and wealth. Moreover, if governed well, energy systems and shared access to energy implied the potential for greater political alignment between nations. However, the rapid growth that came with the use of fossil and nuclear energy soon revealed its downside. Not only did the environmental impact of human activity grow, the switch to fossil fuels and later nuclear energy also intensified power struggles between nations and added a new area of conflict.
Taking policies and actions to secure energy supply as a starting point, the course asks how energy use and the struggles to access and control energy determines the structure of today’s international system. Vice versa, the course asks how the structure of the international system determines energy policy, energy use, and internal development of nations. This includes different geographical areas (e.g. Europe and Asia), forms of energy (e.g. oil and electricity). Moreover, to develop an understanding of energy in international politics, the course draws on theories such as neo-realism, neo-liberalism, and transnationalism. Energy security concepts are used to illuminate the motives of individual states. Historical starting points are i) the switch to fossil fuels and its effect on power relations between countries, and ii) the foundation of IRENA.
Geographically, the course includes cases from across the globe. There is, however, several focal points. The Nordic countries and adjacent geographical areas (e.g. the Arctic) are an important part of the course. Being frontrunners of the energy transition, Europe and China also stand in the focus. Beyond, the course covers a variety of states. Here, the focus is on the role of developing economies in the energy transition. Several international organizations and institution are included, e.g. the United Nations and IRENA. With regard to energy forms, the course studies the international dimension of renewables, innovative technologies such as hydrogen and nuclear power, as well as topics directly linked to energy use, for example CCS.
SDGs related to this course
By studying the relationship between energy transition and international relations, the course provides knowledge relevant for achieving SDG7 (Affordable and Clean Energy) and SDG13 (Climate Action). Taking global institutions and governance as a point of departure, insights conducive to SDG17 (Partnership for the Goals) are being offered. In addition, with its perspective on the impact of new energy technologies on global affairs, the course imparts knowledge relevant for achieving SDG1 (No Poverty).
After completing the course, the students will have the following knowledge, skills and competencies:
In terms of knowledge, students will have insights into the following areas:
Energy politics and policies in different geographical areas
Geopolitics of energy and international relations theory
Renewable energy in international politics
Impact of renewables on geopolitics
Renewable energy and energy security
International controversies related to the on-going energy transition
In terms of skills, students should be able to achieve the following:
Description of cases with an importance to the geopolitics of energy
Critically assessing the international dimension of energy policy
Description of theoretical concepts related to the geopolitics of energy
Application of various theoretical perspectives to a given case
Addressing various challenges of global energy governance
Demonstrating insights in international politics and governance
Discussing the links between geopolitics and the energy transition
In terms of general competencies, students should be capable of:
Analysing complex facts and circumstance by the use of theory
Expressing knowledge about today’s system of energy governance
Communicating international challenges associated with bringing energy systems in alignment with ecological limits
Processing complex and various information such as historical and economic facts
Understanding quantitative as well as qualitative data
Making effective written and oral presentations
Showing a good capacity of independent learning
Required prerequisite knowledge
School exam and written assignment
Form of assessment
Written assignment 2
One individual oral presentation (including questions).
There must be an early dialogue between the course coordinator, the student representative and the students. The purpose is feedback from the students for changes and adjustments in the course for the current semester.In addition, a digital course evaluation must be carried out at least every three years. Its purpose is to gather the students experiences with the course.