SEATTLE — Oil reserves and territories rich in gas and coal have historically been points of cross-border and inter-border conflicts. Whether demarcated by claims of national sovereignty or by ethnic background, groups have always sought to control energy reserves. Why? Simply, because very little can function without energy and those who control the source of energy hold power, which can be leveraged.
Contemporary conflicts, such as the prolonged Iraqi wars and territorial disputes in the South-China sea have in part stemmed from conflicts over oil. Energy security and poverty are closely interlinked, and countries need to shift their priorities to securing means of energy to stabilize their countries and further their development.
As natural reserves of fossil fuels wane, and new conflicts threaten to aggravate choke-hold areas, energy has increasingly become a vital security issue. Take the Straits of Malacca and Hormuz as an example. Approximately 17m barrels pass through Hormuz a day, and most tankers are vulnerable to closure or confrontation by terrorism or regional conflict.
Energy security is prevalent on both macro and micro scales. On a macro scale, it means that countries have access to trade with countries with a surplus of energy, and on a micro scale, it means that individuals and families have access to affordable energy to power their basic needs. Both macro and micro also entail that sudden changes in supply-demand will not drastically disrupt a country’s ability to function.
Energy security and poverty are both a macro and micro issue for all developing nations, and as population growth increases and reserves of natural energy decreases, energy increasingly becomes a hot spot for conflict.
Energy security remains an issue for smaller economically-dependent countries and countries with unsustainable population growth, such as India. India’s population and economic growth are estimated to grow from 1.3 billion to 1.5 billion by 2030. As a result, the corresponding surge for in energy demand is to double by this time. Currently, India suffers from lack of widespread energy access, with at least 300 million people with limited or no access to electricity.
Currently, the largest producer of carbon-dioxide and one of the greatest consumers of oil, China’s emerging energy security initiatives are taking root in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and its territorial claims in the South China Sea. China also deals with unstable exporters, such as Venezuela and is privy to some level of energy insecurity.
It also has preemptive rights to supplies based on past investments into Venezuela, which reduces the supply for the open market and puts other import-dependent countries at risk.
Critical in sustainably managing the shifts taking place in the energy market ensuring a stable transition from fossil fuels to renewables. This means not forgetting the most vulnerable people in extremely rural areas, which might see a sudden stop in their already limited access to energy. Countries will have to implement more mechanisms for renewable energy, a potentially expensive short-term initiative, which will have long-term gains, to account for the change.
Nature of Conflict
The nature of conflict is changing; wars will manifest in different forms. If the energy gluttons of the world turned even 10 percent of their total military budget towards sustainable development, they might find themselves with more security than military offenses could offer. If these transitions are not made soon — after which individual countries do not have to rely on trade partners for dying sources of energy entirely — deadly conflict will emerge and poverty will be exacerbated.
Energy security and poverty are to be taken seriously as an increasingly prevalent cause of chaos for nations. These risks are very real, and require governments to acknowledge the urgency of the matter.
– Sydney Nam