Conceptions of energy-security: Politics and policies

Contributions on the politics and/or policies of energy within or across boundaries are especially invited. The authors are encouraged to relate their particular contribution to some conception of energy-security if relevant for their research.

Energy-security relates to the experience that the abundant supply of energy is a precondition for technological change and economic development, and thus for the host of first-order policy goals served by successful technological and economic change. To the extent that energy is a scarce resource; a cherished source of income; a prerequisite for treasured ways-of-life, social cohesion and political stability; and is susceptible to be used as a means of extracting political concessions, energy issues are bound to be read through the lenses of security. This is the more so since the global spatial location of energy consumption only partially overlaps the physical location of energy reserves and energy production. If energy relations between exporters and importers of energy commodities in addition are complicated by disputes on terms-of-trade, political conflict, cultural abysses, or a political mentality of unlimited ambitions, the strategic attributes of energy is likely to invite the fully fledged securitization of energy-issues. What aspects of reality may be included in the concept of energy security? Aside from the fact that energy is a means to reach a wide range of crucial policy-goals, how is energy security to be under­stood? The predominant discourse on energy security is biased towards the concerns of import-dependent and energy-intensive economies, preoccupied with safeguarding of the abundant and uninterrupted supply of oil and gas from faraway places at sustainable prices – while there is growing pressure from emerging economies to increase their share of world energy consumption.

A huge body of literature shares the security-of-supply focus on energy-security, if for no other reason that industrialized countries – with the notable exceptions of Canada, Russia and Norway – are dependent on the import of oil, gas and uranium to cover their energy needs. However, the security-of-supply approach to energy security does not exhaust this multifaceted phenomenon. First, the concept of energy-security may also include the security-of-demand concerns of energy-exporting countries. Second, energy-security is not limited to the level of the state. For many research-purposes it is more relevant to study energy-security at the global, regional or the sub-national level, including different structures and agencies. Finally, grasping the full extent of energy-security requires a temporal dimension distinguishing between security in short-term, mid-term, and long-term. Energy-security is a matrix of only partly complementary concerns related to whose energy security is addressed, what level of analysis is chosen, and how far into the future we are looking. The case of human-induced climate change highlights the host of tensions that may arise between shorter and longer-term considerations of energy security. Due to the strong functional linkages between the problem of human-induced climate change and energy production, conversion and consumption (fossil fuels generating CO2 emissions), present energy choices strongly influence global emissions of CO2, the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, climate change and sea level rises, and subsequently the economic, social and political costs in lost GDP growth, in human suffering, and in increased conflict due to food-shortages, competition for land and increased migration. More than any other contemporary challenge, human-induced climate change offers global and long-term dimensions to the issue of energy security which in a radical sense challenges the internationally community to cooperate effectively on a global scale and with a longer time-horizon.

From a social science research perspective it is interesting to identify and better understand (i) the main structures and key actors influencing energy policy-making at different levels, (ii) the mechanisms (political institutions, markets, formal and informal networks) through which these actors interact and influence one another within and across levels, and (iii) the energy policies, behaviour and macro-trends that are reproduced and changed as a result of the dynamic interaction between political and economic structures and actors, across levels and polities. Furthermore, it is a study worth to investigating the conditions for and the extent to which different considerations of energy security, originating at different levels of analysis may be harmonized and mutually strengthened.


Gunnar Fermann, Department of Sociology and Political Science, NTNU

Hugh Dyer, University of Leeds


List of participants