Friday, May 8, 2009

Energy Security and Climate Security

The first plenary session, chaired by Inkster, was titled “Energy Security and Climate Security: Are long-term security from climate change and short-term energy security compatible?” The three panelists were: Lieutenant General Larry Farrell, retired from the U.S. Air Force, of the CNA Corporation’s Military Advisory Board; Christophe Sammartano, Principal Counselor for Energy Security at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and David Buchan, a Senior Fellow at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies.

General Farrell underscored that dependence on imported oil is a clear national security threat to the United States, and has been since 1970. He stated that moving away from oil will be a major technological undertaking, taking decades. Citing his experience as the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff responsible for planning, he said that it was critically important for long-term planning purposes that oil and gasoline prices are predictable, and that fluctuations from $50 per barrel to $147 and back over a nine month span makes long-term budgeting impossible for large institutions like the military. The Department of Defense – as the United States’ largest consumer of fossil fuels – should be a leader in this fight. He highlighted that the goal of U.S. policy should be to “Change oil from a ‘strategic commodity’ to a regular commodity, just like wheat.”

Christophe Sammartano, a specialist on Europe’s energy relationship with Central Asia and Russia, spoke about the need for Europe to achieve energy security by diversifying its energy supply away from dirty sources like coal and from politically risky areas like Russia. Like General Farrell, he emphasized that there needs to be significant technological advances, including in battery storage, new nuclear power, and carbon-capture and sequestration, before true long-term energy and climate security can be achieved.

David Buchan, author of the recently released book Energy and Climate Change, Europe at the Crossroads, spoke about how climate change policy has helped to unify a European energy policy that has traditionally been dealt with at the national level. Policies of climate-mitigating carbon reduction, however, can not be considered in isolation from the two more traditional strands of EU energy policy: market liberalization and security of supply. He stated that the US can learn from European policies, especially stating that prices in the US are too low, and suggested that a significant increase in the gas tax will be necessary.

Questions from the audience were varied and insightful. All participants agreed that prices for fossil fuels will need to rise in order to provide economic incentives for renewable energy. Over the long term, panelists expressed concerns about the ability of Russia to meet its role as an energy supplier: citing a lack of investment, problems of transparency, and a politicization of energy supplies. Sammartano explained the January 2009 Russia-Ukraine gas crisis as a combination of political and economic disagreements that led to an impasse. Finally, there was a sense that energy security has two different definitions: for Europeans, it means a diversity of suppliers and sources; while for Americans it means a reduction in imports.

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