It was the Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who offered an interesting conceptual contribution at Copenhagen; next to the top-down-method, there should be more attention paid to the bottom-up approach. Individuals, companies, but also local and regional governments play a crucial role in tackling climate change, and in the transformation towards an energy regime based on renewable energy. California voted a law which should reduce the emissions of the state by 2020 by 25%. This will attract unprecedented levels of investments. It will also help create a vast growth market, which will alleviate the economic problems of California.
The coming energy transition will produce far-reaching consequences, both from an internal-geopolitical and an external-geopolitical point of view.
From an internal-geopolitical perspective, the technological conversion which we will witness in the coming 25 years will be comparable to the industrial revolution at the end of the nineteenth to the beginning of the twentieth century. An energy transition constitutes one of the most sweeping turnarounds from both an economical and societal point of view, whether it constituted the shift from steam to coal, from coal to oil (and later natural gas), or today towards renewable forms of energy. It questions the economic fabric, it has implications for the societal structure, but also it touches upon the very core of politics. It is not a coincidence that most national states in Europe (and later also in the rest of the world) were established during an energy transition period from steam to coal and later to oil, which demanded huge piles of capital and a central political decision-making. The national state and central power supply & distribution go hand in hand. They need one another. Those areas in the world with an exceptional large energy hunger, such as the United States of America or the People’s Republic of China, will moreover feel the need to invest additionally in their respective militaries. They do this so as to secure their access to oil and natural gas. The fact that this sometimes puts democracy under pressure is “a price which has to be paid”. The imminent energy transition towards more renewable forms will be accompanied by a huge decentralisation of the energy supply. This will also impact upon the res publica, the organisation of political life. Local and regional governments will, if they invest heavily in renewable energy (and thus cleaner) technologies, dispose of more levers vis-à-vis their central counterparts than is the case today. This could potentially also be beneficial for the democratic standard of societies. At the same time, one can detect here also actors wishing to discourage this. The former central energy suppliers do not want to loose their monopoly position, and are willing to use various strategies and instruments so as to frustrate the growth of small renewable energy companies, or they just buy them. Here is a role for all governments at all policy-levels to create an economic landscape which is more diverse, and which guarantees that no one is able to gain an upper hand.
From an external-geopolitical perspective, it is clear after Copenhagen that we are gradually evolving in the direction of a duo-multipolar world order, a world with multiple power centres, but one in which China and the U. S. are drawing the major international-political chalk lines. The negotiations in Copenhagen were exceptionally complex, but eventually the negotiation dynamics between the U. S. and China forced upon the rest of the international community a framework within which negotiators were forced to operate. In energy- and climate-dossiers, this duo-multipolar order could very well prove extremely frustrating in the years to come. Both the United States and China are navigating an utmost conservative course with regard to matters of energy and climate. Washington does so because it is technologically trailing behind in comparison to Europe and Japan on such issues. China fears that too strict international agreements could frustrate its own economic development, which is so dependent upon traditional energy such as coal and imported oil.