Scotland’s pursuit of low carbon future restricted by UK national security objectives

University of Sussex

A military submarine partly submerged in dock with foggy city skyline in background
Photo of Dr Paula Kivimaa wearing leopard print top and white cardigan in front of plain grey background

Dr Paula Kivimaa

Scotland’s progression to a low carbon future is likely being held back by national security policy from Westminster, new research from the University of Sussex Business School indicates.

The security concerns of the UK Government are prioritised when conflicts arise with Scottish energy policy with no balanced consideration of low carbon energy transitions and national security, reveals the analysis of 15 years of policy documents by academics at the University of Sussex Business School and the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE).

Dr Paula Kivimaa and Ms. Marja H. Sivonen highlight examples where strategic aims around a low carbon transition away from a fossil fuel dependent economy conflicted with UK security policy such as objectives to safeguard oil platforms in its territorial waters and abroad.

The study warns that the incoherence between security and energy policies may lead to less efficient use of public spending and a slowing down of the transition to a more sustainable energy system.

The academics also raise concerns that the move towards a low-carbon energy future will create an even more complicated policy environment where coherence between energy and security objectives will be harder to achieve because of the pressures from climate change, domestic and international conflicts, and increasing global instability and demand for energy.

The study also warns that the security risks from moving to a low carbon energy systems, including the availability of materials needed for renewable energy systems and cyber threats to smart energy systems, may not be currently well understood or mitigated for in government policy.

Dr Kivimaa, Senior Research Fellow in the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex Business School and Research Professor in the Finnish Environment Institute, said: “There is a functional overlap between energy and security policies and incoherence between the two is likely to create conflicting policies, reducing the efficiency of public spending, and potentially slowing down the energy transition.

“To reduce barriers for rapid emissions reductions, two issues need to be acknowledged and addressed: that traditional security policy may be hindering energy system change and that the energy transition is changing the security implications of energy systems.

“A good example is how Boris Johnson’s announcement to increase UK nuclear warheads is a traditional security move that may further reinforce the nuclear industry more generally instead of strengthening the Scottish transition to renewable energy, as earlier research at University of Sussex has shown a link between military and non-military nuclear. This may also work against the Scottish government’s position to no new nuclear power.

“Our analysis highlights a significant risk; that by giving stakeholders conflicting signals and neglecting the security implications of renewable energy, the current national security framing that prioritises fossil fuels is likely to delay the energy transition.”

In a new article published in Energy Research & Social Science, researchers analysed the degree of policy coherence and integration between low carbon energy policies and security policies in Finland, Estonia and Scotland three European countries by reviewing 72 policy strategy documents published between 2006 and 2020.

The policy document analysis reveals how UK energy policy is diverging from that of Scotland, notably through Scotland’s strong opposition of nuclear power demonstrated in objectives and measures as well as the devolved administration’s more ambitious plans related to climate change mitigation, economic development and energy efficiency.

The study noted that the integration of security and energy policy for Scotland had decreased since 2006.

Dr Kivimaa said: “Our study indicates that most countries experience political conflicts between a shift towards zero carbon energy and national security policies.

“However, this may be more pronounced for Scotland given the devolution of powers between Westminster and Holyrood. In small administrations, like those in Nordic countries, advancing policy coherence is easier due to informal networks between policy areas.

“As we move into an increasingly complex landscape for climate and energy policy, pursuing coherence between energy and security policy is going to be even more difficult. Policymakers will need to undertake more careful and detailed assessments of how policy coherence can be advanced in an environmentally and socially sustainable way.”

Ms. Sivonen, MSc, a Researcher in the Finnish Environment Institute, said: “It is surprising to see from our analysis just how little attention the policy documents paid to the potential security implications of renewable energy and other new sustainable energy developments. Issues ignored include the availability and supply of critical materials and rare earth minerals for renewable energy, the impacts of renewable energy on peace and conflict, and potential reactions of the far-right to climate policy and renewable energy.”

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