• Climate Change
  • Energy Climate Policy
  • Policy and Regulation
  • Sustainability

National Security Concerns Impede Sustainable Energy Transitions

Elizabeth Wilson
Apr 01, 2022

Guidehouse Insights

On February 28, 2022, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its report on impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability. The report concluded that opportunities to avoid the worst-case scenario—an increase of more than 4.5°C by 2100—are slipping away. Without unprecedented global intervention and shifts away from fossil fuel-sourced energy, the world could surpass the atmospheric temperature tipping point of 1.5°C in the next decade.

At the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in October 2021, there was a more definite intent to address the emissions reduction challenges as countries such as Indonesia and Vietnam were exploring emissions trading systems and carbon taxes and US President Biden signed the bipartisan Infrastructure Bill with $65 billion for clean energy and grid-related investments. There was a sense of urgency around transitions from fossil fuels and coal to renewable energy sources including solar and onshore and offshore wind power.

Country delegates engaged in intense discussions and negotiations over days. Many conferences of this size end up with watered down goals and discarded standards. COP26 arguably had successes, including language around phasing down coal power and new rules for international carbon credit trading. There was significant information sharing and buy-in as COP26 hosted the 197 parties of the United Nations Framework Convention along with numerous observers (international NGOs, environmental NGOs, business and industry parties, research community members, trade unions, and more).

What Caused Governments to Shift Focus from Climate Change and Renewables?

Despite the consistent urgency presented by the IPCC, concerns about climate change have been dwarfed by concerns about national security. Russia’s unprompted invasion of Ukraine and energy price increases have caused countries to shift focus to energy independence, which seems to mean producing more oil domestically and “get[ting] your rig count up” in the words of US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm. In a few instances, utilities have switched to carbon heavy coal with skyrocketing oil prices in response to the invasion. Often, in times of international conflict, climate concerns are placed on the back burner in the US.

The US government is searching for ways to drive down prices and achieve greater independence from Russian oil exports. A turn toward renewables seems like a plausible solution, but in the short term, governments argue that is not attainable—the infrastructure isn’t there in most industries. As Guidehouse Insights points out, there is a lack of Jones Act-compliant wind turbine installation vessels, and port infrastructure for offshore wind will take time to scale up. Additionally, Guidehouse Insights elaborates on ways that the stalled Build Back Better Act has hindered further renewable grid development.

The Long-Term Silver Lining

In 2021, the US and other countries set in motion policies and funding that could expediate the transition to clean energy. The US Infrastructure and Jobs Act will tackle a few of the impediments to green transition—with funding for EV supply equipment, billions of dollars to support grid reliability R&D, and more. Aspects of the Build Back Better Act, if passed, could provide greater funding. 

There are plans and funding built in for energy transition efforts—potentially with more on the way—despite governments’ focus elsewhere. For instance, on February 14, New York broke ground on its first offshore wind project. The overwhelming takeaway for organizations is that while there may be a short-term shift of focus and slowing of the shift away from fossil fuels, in the longer term, renewable energy transitions are here to stay.