Climate Security and the EU: Toward Ecological Diplomacy

To achieve its goal of becoming an effective geopolitical power, the EU should prioritize ecological security and diplomacy in its foreign and security policy. This strategy should include practical and innovative strategies for systemic regeneration both at home and abroad.


The EU is at a crossroads in its commitment to energy transition and climate change action. The European Green Deal combines multiple policy strands to propel European countries toward a low-carbon economy. However, as the EU deepens and accelerates its internal energy transition, climate action must become a more central issue in the union’s external policy. The energy transition in Europe will have far-reaching consequences, particularly for the bloc’s relationship with the rest of the world.

Simultaneously, the effects of climate change on global politics and interstate relations will pose increasingly pressing challenges to the EU’s security and other interests.

These observations are extremely relevant and relate to another major EU commitment: becoming a more powerful geopolitical power. This compilation explores how the EU could be an effective geopolitical power in dealing with climate change and ecological shifts through its external policies.

Extensive analytical work on climate security has accumulated, primarily making the general case for why the EU should take climate factors more seriously in its foreign policies. However, after more than a decade of policy efforts, the EU already has a dense network of ongoing initiatives that fall within the scope of climate security to some extent. Given this, the priority should no longer be to restate the fundamentals of why climate is a geopolitical challenge. The EU has already progressed along this policy curve. Rather, it should be used to assess the EU’s more specific approaches to climate security.

The six chapters that follow assess various aspects of the climate security challenge. Through these various contributions, a central argument emerges: the EU requires a broader understanding of climate geopolitics in order to expand and improve its already extensive policy initiatives in this area. It must essentially shift from its current concept of climate security to a more ambitious concept of ecological security.

The intense focus on reducing carbon emissions has diverted attention away from the broader issues posed by ecological disruptions. The EU has incorporated climate-related elements into its security policies, but strategists’ mindsets must shift to recognize the need for more fundamental change. The EU must go beyond containing climate risks and support far-reaching systemic change. Climate security policies must not only focus on adapting to turbulence, resource constraints, and increased unpredictability, but also on fostering the deeper change required to restore global ecological stability and balance.

Rather than simply adding climate components to its existing foreign and security policy frameworks, the EU must understand how the far-reaching systemic change caused by ecological stresses will result in a very different set of external imperatives.

The chapters make the case for the shift in focus by conducting two levels of analysis: one that closely examines current EU external policy approaches and another that reveals the extent of the EU’s understanding of climate geopolitics. Rather than simply asserting that the EU needs to do more in the field of climate security, the authors investigate the union’s evolving approaches, what the EU has accomplished thus far, where it has fallen short in developing a properly conceptualized approach to climate geopolitics, and what the implications will be if the limitations are not addressed.

Richard Youngs examines the two core aspects of the EU’s approaches to climate security policy over the last decade in the first chapter: its indirect, context-shaping approach and its protective-autonomy approach (that focuses on inward-looking geostrategy). This conceptual framework serves as a foundation for understanding how the EU’s policies have fallen short and how they can be improved.

Olivia Lazard explains why the EU’s current policies do not address the root causes of climate security issues and may even worsen long-term climate disruption. She outlines the concept of an ecosocial contract, which should drive the EU to move beyond climate security and toward ecological diplomacy, calling for a strategy that looks beyond a one-dimensional focus on decarbonization.

David Michel investigates the EU’s responses to the conflicts and fragility that climate change is exacerbating. He explains why the EU needs to develop more effective and climate-sensitive notions of resilience and conflict interventions, particularly in geographical areas that are likely to become key stress points for the world.

Andreas Goldthau shows how the EU has gradually incorporated climate factors into its external economic relations, but not in a way that constitutes an effective geoeconomic approach. While the EU’s regulatory toolbox is central to its international power, it is unclear whether it can be used to manage the strategic consequences of climate change without significant negative consequences.

Sophia Kalantzakos examines how climate change has prompted the EU to rethink its international partnerships. She contends that, given concerns about rare earth and critical mineral supplies, the EU must fundamentally reassess its geopolitical alliances and approaches to multilateralism as part of its ecological diplomacy.

Finally, John Elkington and Thammy Evans argue that the EU must advance an ambitious model of economic regeneration that goes beyond the European Green Deal commitments. This model should serve as the foundation for developing a more comprehensive and effective set of internal and external EU policies. Heather Grabbe concludes by connecting the chapters and recommending concrete steps the EU can take toward ecological diplomacy.

The EU has accomplished much through its climate policies in recent years, and there is no doubt that Europe faces complex challenges. The goal of this compilation is not to criticize, but rather to propose various ways for the union to enter a necessary next phase of climate security or ecological diplomacy. It aims to provide a big-picture reflection on what security means in a climate-disrupted world, as well as a practical set of guidelines for how a geopolitical EU can positively contribute to a broader ecological security agenda.

One guiding principle directs the EU to move away from a reactive and piecemeal approach to climate security and toward a more systemic approach to peace and geopolitics. This necessitates moving beyond the Green Deal and the emphasis on decarbonization. It also requires the EU to establish mechanisms to measure both the positive and unintended negative impacts of its policies on this broader ecological regeneration across all areas of its internal and external action. The EU must also improve its integration of comprehensive climate and environmental factors into its external conflict, governance, and development policies. Furthermore, it should work to ensure that international collaborations help to deescalate geopolitical competition for critical rare earths and other materials, rather than fueling this growing threat to ecological stability.

As a result of all of this, the shift toward a broader concept of ecological security is more than just the EU doing a little bit better in its current efforts—putting more diplomatic or financial resources into existing conceptual approaches. Many of the current approaches are not only insufficient, but also harmful to ecological integrity and, as a result, to the union’s geopolitical interests in terms of security and stability. It is critical that the EU change its approach to articulating the relationship between the ecological crisis and its geopolitical power.

Carnegie Europe and the Open Society European Policy Institute collaborated on this publicationYoungs_and_Lazard_EU_Climate_FINAL_07.08.21.


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