The EU stands at a critical juncture in its commitment to energy transition and action against climate change. The European Green Deal brings together multiple strands of policy to propel European states toward a low-carbon economy. However, as the EU deepens and accelerates its internal energy transition, climate action must become a more pivotal issue for the union’s external action. Europe’s energy transition will have far-reaching effects, particularly for the bloc’s relationship with the wider world. At the same time, the impacts of climate change on politics and interstate relations globally will present increasingly pressing challenges for the EU’s security and other interests.
These observations are highly pertinent and connect to another major EU commitment: becoming a stronger geopolitical power. Linking these issues, this compilation explores how the EU could—through its external policies—be an effective geopolitical power in dealing with climate change and ecological shifts.
Extensive analytical work has accumulated on climate security and mainly makes the general case for why the EU needs to take climate factors more seriously within its foreign policies. But after more than a decade of policy efforts, the EU already has a dense network of ongoing initiatives that fall to some degree within the scope of climate security. Given this, the priority should no longer be restating the basics of why climate represents a geopolitical challenge. The EU has already moved some distance along this policy curve. Rather, it should be to assess the more precise ways in which the EU is approaching climate security.
The following six chapters here assess different elements of the climate security challenge. Through these different contributions, a core argument emerges: the EU needs a broader understanding of climate geopolitics to extend and improve its already rich array of policy initiatives in this area. It essentially needs to transition from its current conceptualization of climate security to a more ambitious notion of ecological security.
The intense focus on reducing carbon emissions has diverted attention from the wider challenges that come from ecological disruptions. The EU has added useful climate elements to its security policies, but strategists’ mindsets still need to shift to recognize the need for more fundamental change. The union needs to move beyond containing climate risks to supporting far-reaching systemic change. Climate security policies must not only focus on adapting to turbulence, resource constraints, and higher levels of unpredictability but also on fostering the deeper change needed to restore ecological stability and balance at a global level. Rather than simply adding climate components to its existing foreign and security policy frameworks, the EU needs to understand how a very different set of external imperatives will flow from the far-reaching systemic change spurred by ecological stresses.
The chapters build a case for the shift in focus through two levels of analysis: one that closely assesses current EU external policy approaches and one that reveals the extent of the EU’s understanding of climate geopolitics. Rather than simply assert that the EU needs to do more in the field of climate security, the authors delve into the union’s evolving approaches, what the EU has achieved so far, how it has fallen short in generating a properly conceptualized approach to climate geopolitics, and what the implications will be if the limitations are not addressed.
In the first chapter, Richard Youngs examines the two core aspects of the EU’s approaches to climate security policy over the last decade: its indirect, context-shaping approach and its protective-autonomy approach (that focuses on inward-looking geostrategy). This conceptual framework provides a baseline for understanding how the EU’s policies have been insufficient and how they can be improved.
Olivia Lazard explains why the EU’s existing policies do not address the roots of climate security issues and may even cause more climate disruption in the long term. Calling for a strategy that looks beyond a one-dimensional focus on decarbonization, she outlines the concept of an ecosocial contract that should drive the EU to move beyond climate security toward ecological diplomacy.
David Michel investigates EU responses to the conflicts and fragility that climate disruptions are increasingly exacerbating. He explains why the EU needs to develop more effective and climate-sensitive notions of resilience and conflict interventions, especially in the geographical areas that are likely to become the world’s key stress points.
Andreas Goldthau charts how the EU has progressively incorporated climate factors into its external economic relations but has not done so in a way that constitutes an effective approach to geoeconomics. While the EU’s regulatory toolbox is core to its international power, whether it can be used to manage the strategic impacts of climate change without significant negative side effects is unclear.
Sophia Kalantzakos observes how climate challenges have prompted the EU to start recalibrating its international partnerships. Particularly given concerns over rare earth and critical mineral supplies, she argues that the union needs to fundamentally reassess its geopolitical alliances and approaches to multilateralism as part of its ecological diplomacy.
And, finally, John Elkington and Thammy Evans contend that the EU needs to advance an ambitious model of economic regeneration that goes beyond the commitments of the European Green Deal. This model should become the foundation for designing a broader and more effective set of internal and external EU policies. In her conclusion, Heather Grabbe ties the chapters together and recommends concrete steps the EU can take toward ecological diplomacy.
The EU has achieved much through its climate policies in recent years, and there is no doubt that the challenges facing Europe are complex. The purpose of this compilation not to criticize but rather to suggest various ways the union can move into a necessary next phase of climate security or ecological diplomacy. It aims to offer a big-picture reflection on what security means in a climate-disrupted world, as well as a practical set of guidelines for how a geopolitical EU can contribute more positively to a broader ecological security agenda.
One overarching guideline directs the EU to move beyond a reactive and piecemeal approach to climate security toward a more systemic approach to peace and geopolitics. This requires going beyond the Green Deal and the focus on decarbonization. It also requires the EU, across all areas of its internal and external action, to establish mechanisms to measure both the positive and unintended negative impacts of its policies on this wider ecological regeneration. The EU also needs to better integrate comprehensive climate and ecological factors into its external conflict, governance, and development policies. Further, it should work to ensure that international partnerships help deescalate geopolitical competition for critical rare earths and other materials rather than further fuel this growing risk to ecological stability.
As all of this suggests, the move toward a wider notion of ecological security is not simply about the EU doing slightly better in its current efforts—putting more diplomatic or financial resources into existing conceptual approaches. Many of these current approaches are not just insufficient but, in some cases, actually harmful to ecological integrity and, in turn, to the union’s geopolitical interests related to security and stability. It is imperative that the EU make a qualitative change in how it seeks to articulate the relationship between the ecological crisis and its geopolitical power.
This publication is a collaboration between Carnegie Europe and the Open Society European Policy Institute.