A Conversation on the Geopolitics of Climate and Energy with Sir Stephen Lovegrove

By Michelle Ahn MPA ’24
Posted Dec 13 2023
Sir Stephen Lovegrove Roundtable


On November 29, the Institute of Global Politics hosted a Policy Roundtable with Sir Stephen Lovegrove, the Former UK National Security Adviser and an IGP Carnegie Distinguished Fellow and Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP) at Columbia SIPA. The conversation covered a diverse range of policy issues, ranging from climate change to defense to the global energy transition.

Below are some highlights:

Where is there potential for progress to be made on the global energy transition?

“The biggest problem we can see is that access to cheap and reliable energy is one of the things that economic growth is predicated on, and we have a problem because of various factors, including the colossal amount of debt in the world. Debt is across government, private, and company balance sheets and will make it extraordinarily difficult for governments to impose levies on populations, which is what will ultimately be required to advance the energy transition.

We are also not moving fast enough in the energy transition to address a real cost of living crisis, there are disadvantaged populations not in a position to live the kinds of life we want them to be living [given their energy service bills]. A way out of this problem will ultimately be a more honest discussion about the risks associated with climate change, the government intervention needed for technologies to develop quickly enough to get us through, and people to understand the real suffering that will take place to understand what the energy transition will cost us.

How can we integrate considerations about energy transition into matters of geopolitics and foreign policy?

“We will not get to where we need without India or China, we [Europe] have also benefited from cheap hydrocarbon fuels for the last 150 years, so we need to have conversations with these countries and approach them with humility and generosity. It will require leadership from all sides and the success or failures of these conversations will depend significantly on the leadership in certain places.”

How do you understand the role of international law in solving global problems like preventing wars and humanitarian crises?

“Currently, international law is not in a great place, but globally we must move mountains to bring it back to where it needs to be. The slide we see towards great power competition unmoored from an international legal framework is incredibly dangerous and will require a spirit of openness and humility to engage with countries who have historically been on the raw end of the international legal system. The UK will need to engage with bringing these countries into the fold, and instead of rhetoric that separates how countries ought to work with each other such as ‘the Global South or the Global North’ we should want certain universal values and norms to be observed, which will require generosity towards countries who have taken worse ends of the stick, and if that ultimately requires changes in international bodies or the developed world having to move from entrenched positions, then so be it.”