Scientist: World heading toward ‘energy imperialism’

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With the world's population continuing to grow and demand for energy rising in emerging economies, the world will face a new energy and raw material imperialism, predicts Professor Friedbert Pflüger, director of the newly-founded European Centre for Energy and Resource Security (EUCERS) at King's College, London.

Friedbert Pflüger has previously served as spokesperson for former German President Richard von Weizsäcker, a member of the German Parliament, secretary of state in the Ministry of Defence and group leader of the Conservatives in the Berlin Municipal Parliament.

In October 2010, he co-founded the European Centre for Energy and Resource Security (EUCERS) at King's College, London. He is now director of the centre.

He was speaking to EURACTIV Germany's Ewald König.

Professor Pflüger: the European Centre for Energy and Resource Security (EUCERS) at King's College, London, was established on 1 October 2010.  How does EUCERS differ from other bodies that deal with energy issues?

EUCERS deals with the European, foreign policy and security dimensions of energy policy. In light of the growing world population and the substantial rise in demand for energy and raw materials in emerging economies, competition for the limited resources of our world is intensifying.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) concludes in its latest annual report that global energy policies are not sustainable, neither regarding the requirements of climate change nor global security of supply. Against this background there is an impending re-nationalisation, indeed an energy and raw material imperialism.

It is increasingly the strategic interests of countries, and not the markets, that determine energy and commodity policies. Just look at the way China has positioned its state corporations in recent years in Africa, Latin America or Central Asia, which have energy or natural resources.

In addition, China has recently exploited its factual production and export monopoly of rare earths in a political move. A diplomatic dispute with Japan has prompted China to de facto ban exports to Tokyo, although Beijing itself is increasingly becoming dependent on energy and raw material imports and is more concerned than ever about growing threats to supply security.

The problem of rare earths also shows that new dependencies, vulnerabilities and risks to supply security – and therefore geopolitical conflicts – can develop in the field of renewable energy and other 'green technologies'.

One may also turn to the North Pole, where the Russians demonstratively hoisted their flag on the seabed in 2007. Arctic fleets are set up and manoeuvres held. Additionally there is the threat of terrorists and cyber attacks on trade routes and so-called critical energy infrastructure. The water debate will also be put forward in the coming years. 

All of this has enormous foreign and security policy implications. Analysing these developments and identifying how impending resource conflicts can be resolved peacefully or even prevented is an important task for the EU and its member states.

Does EUCERS want to influence European energy policy?

One of our aims is to gather – through our studies, our round tables and workshops – scientific analysis and monitoring, which we will make available to European and national institutions in the energy and commodities field, but also for associations or companies.

We want to make sure that our research and teaching does not take place in an ivory tower and fosters a dialogue on energy policy in practice. This will be fruitful for both sides. I want, for example, our students to do internships in the EU or European energy companies and to work on their PhD theses on topics of practical relevance, in order to prepare for careers in the energy and commodities field.

Through the Treaty of Lisbon and the work of [European] Commission President José Manuel Barroso and Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger, the EU has begun to formulate an effective European energy policy.

This is also urgently needed if we want to guarantee long-term supply security for the European nations and maintain our competitiveness – as agreed under the terms of the EU's climate policy. The same also applies to the commodities area – just think of the problems European industry faces with the supply of rare earths.

For more than two decades you were a German politician, most notably chairman of the EU Committee in the Bundestag and Parliamentary State Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Defence. Why are you now stepping into the academic world?

My PhD supervisor, Karl Dietrich Bracher, always thought that I should have dedicated myself to science right after my graduation. Why the long detour?, he asked last year…

Seriously, we should allow many more career changes and promote exchange between politics, science and industry in Germany and Europe alike. The US is much more open to this than we are in the Old World.

During my time as a politician, I have never given up my contacts with science. I've published constantly, time and again, on issues of international energy and environmental policy – and now I am happy to provide my twenty years of experience in practical politics, with a focus on EU, foreign and security policy, to the academic world.

It gives me particular pleasure to see how many students and PhD students are interested in just that. To work at King's College in London is a special honour to me. The College – and especially the dean of the Department of War Studies, Mervyn Frost, and his predecessor, Sir Lawrence Freedman – has specifically expressed its desire for such sharing of experiences.

Moreover, I particularly regard constant collaboration with our small team of outstanding scientists as a great added value.

Speaking of the EUCERS team, who else is involved?

Our research director, Petra Dolata, for example, and our associate director, Frank Umbach. Petra Dolata has published an important book about the German coal crisis in the national and transatlantic context, and numerous articles on issues of US and Canadian energy policy.

Having worked at the Berlin Free University as assistant professor, she began in 2007 at King's College in London, in the Department of Political Economy. She is responsible for the PhD students in the field of energy security at KCL.

Frank Umbach, in addition to working for EUCERS, is Senior Associate and Head of Programme for International Energy Security at the Centre for European Security Studies (CESS GmbH) in Munich-Berlin. From 1996-2007 he was head of two programmes, 'International Energy Security' and 'Foreign and Security Policy in the Asia-Pacific' region at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP).

He is very well connected around the world and has authored over 250 publications in 25 countries, dealing mainly with energy and resource security, including his 2003 book on global energy security as a strategic challenge in European and German foreign policy.

Another team member is Carola Gegenbauer, a young expert on Europe, as Head of Operations of our centre at KCL. Carola is one of the best students of Ludger Kühnhardt from the Centre for European Integration Studies at Bonn University.

In addition, we have very qualified young research associates – all in all, a small but very good and motivated team that enjoys the full support of the Department of War Studies and the University.

How is EUCERS financed?

King's College, London provides us with an office in the university buildings on the Strand and with the appropriate equipment, as well as with the facilities for large and small events. It covers the basic costs.

In addition, we fund our research projects and conferences through external funding. With the support of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, for example, last year we organised a workshop on European energy security, with Jürgen Grossmann, CEO of RWE, as the keynote speaker.

Its British offshoot RWE nPower and the Austrian Embassy supported us in carrying out a further workshop on 'Turkey as an energy hub for Europe', with the keynote speech by former Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel.

For 2011 we have pledges of support from the Bertelsmann Foundation, the British Foreign Office, Standard Chartered Bank, and others. In addition to foundations, corporations and the public sector we were also able to win our first private donor, who wishes to promote young academic talent and is particularly interested in our issues.

You are a new research centre. What can and what would you like to achieve in 2011?

We are planning two comprehensive studies on Turkey and the southern corridor as well as on the chances of Carbon Capture Storage (CCS), in other words, carbon-free coal production.

In addition, there will be at least four workshops and two round-table conferences on topics such as unconventional gas resources, or rare earths. We will also look after the first PhD theses, and will hopefully begin to offer scholarships very soon and in this way make a growing contribution to academic life at the Department of War Studies at KCL.

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