'Molecules of Freedom': Energy Security Versus Climate Security

Man Group’s Co-Head of Responsible Investment Jason Mitchell speaks to Malcolm Chalmers, Deputy Director General of the Royal United Services Institute.

Energy security and climate security are not always compatible, according to Professor Malcolm Chalmers, Deputy Director General of the Royal United Services Institute ('RUSI').

“Energy security is not the same as climate security,” Chalmers said in a podcast hosted by Man Group’s Co-Head of Responsible Investment Jason Mitchell. “Energy security is a more national concept. It’s about not having to rely on unreliable suppliers of energy: Europeans would like to rely less on Russia for gas, or the Middle East for oil.”

Some of the ways in which countries respond to energy security concerns are very compatible to climate security e.g. investing in renewables domestically means that less gas and oil could be imported. However, investing more in shale or coal as sources of energy – as in the case of the US – “goes directly against the climate security agenda,” said Chalmers.

“What we’re seeing – certainly in the case of the US – is the big move in putting priority toward energy security rather than climate security,” he said. Indeed, the recent choice of the US Department of Energy to describe gas exports as “molecules of freedom” is rather telling: the US sees itself as protecting its strategic interests by allowing its allies to avoid purchasing energy from its rivals.1

Figure 1: US Shale Production Keeps Rising

Source: Woodmac, IEA, EIA, Reuters, company reports, BofA Merrill Lynch Global Commodities Research.

Chalmers highlighted how the death of the concept of peak oil had exacerbated this trend.

“Every year, new technologies are found to extract more oil and gas from more inhospitable environments where, in the past, it had not been economical to exploit,” he said. “This will continue as long as oil and gas are key elements in energy supply for many countries as governments will continue to be nervous about relying on other countries for access.” As such, the combination of improving technology and fears over energy security can therefore be detrimental to pursuing a climate security agenda.


1. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-48454674


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