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Energy, Climate Change and Security in the Context of Ukraine: A Discussion with Danish Foreign Minister Martin Lidegaard

Smoke billows from the chimneys of the Belchatow Power Station, Europe's largest coal-fired power plant, in Belchatow (REUTERS/Kacper Pempel).

On May 6, 2014, the Project on International Order and Strategy hosted a discussion with Danish Foreign Minister Martin Lidegaard about green energy in the context of the Ukrainian security crisis. As the situation in Ukraine revives questions about Europe’s energy dependence on Russia, many scholars and policymakers have been investigating new European energy options such as importing natural gas from the United States. Lidegaard, however, argued that Europe needs to look beyond traditional energy resources, and instead seek a coherent energy policy centered on renewable energy and green technology.

Lidegaard offers a unique perspective on the intersection between foreign policy, security, and the environment. Though he has served as the foreign minister of Denmark since February 2014, he also has significant experience on issues of climate change. He previously served as the Danish minister for climate, energy and buildings and as the founder and director of Danish climate think tank CONCITO.

Security Challenges from Energy Dependence and Environmental Degradation

Lidegaard pointed out that energy security and green energy are not mutually exclusive, but are in fact complementary and cannot be treated in isolation: “Ukraine is a reminder of the long-lasting effect that energy policy is also foreign and security policy.” Yet, Lidegaard contended that we cannot focus on energy solutions that secure our short-term security without considering the long-term effects on the climate.

The crisis in Ukraine clearly demonstrates that energy dependence, particularly on Russia, can leave states vulnerable to its primary energy source. But, as many reports have shown, climate change comes with its own set of security challenges – and we cannot pursue security without considering its effect on the environment. On climate, he said: “We get no second chance.”

While a shift to clean energy – which would take several years – would not solve the current Ukraine crisis, Lidegaard argues that a policy in support of green technology and renewables would send a strong message to Russia about the consequences of its actions and would better position European energy to lessen its impact on climate change.

Trans-Atlantic Cooperation is Key

Lidegaard urged Denmark, the European Union and the U.S. to cooperate on climate change, efficient energy supplies and a closer trans-Atlantic energy market. Many parts of the world are going to need more energy, but as any infrastructure will last for at least several decades, Lidegaard emphasized the need to be smart about what is built and the market and framework in which energy is sold.

Europe can both bolster its energy security and help reduce energy-related climate change effects, Lidegaard argued, by creating a coherent, strong energy policy centered on renewable energy and green technology. “We are facing a defining moment in European energy history,” he said. By viewing European short-term security problems in the context of long-term energy and climate challenges, Europe can tackle multiple threats at once and look to create a more stable future.

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