A picture says a thousand words
Climate change and geopolitics are often difficult to explain in words. Maps and pictures can explain the relationship between climate and politics in a way words never can. Below, I put together a series of useful maps which chart key aspects of how climate change and geopolitics fit together.
1. Water and Climate Change
Water is vital for life. Drinking water is obvious, but huge quantities of water are also needed for agriculture and industry. Climate change is making the world hotter and drier, but at the same time increasing evaporation is causing heavier, more concentrated downpours, ironically increasing the risk of flooding. Many parts of the world are already heavily water stressed. Cities like Cape Town and Chennai have recently come close to running out of water. Countries like Somalia and Ethiopia have suffered climate linked record-breaking droughts over the last decade. This water shortage is also likely to increase geopolitical tensions – increasing the chance of conflict and war.
2. Oil Chokepoints
Oil chokepoints: this map shows the huge risk in fragile oil supply chains. Crude oil supplies transported by super tankers can be easily disrupted by war, natural disasters and naval blockades. Any disruption in the Straits of Malacca, Red Sea or Persian Gulf will send oil prices sky high, at a swift stroke dealing a deadly blow to the global economy. This is why the USA maintains such a powerful navy and why China fears a US response should it attempt to capture Taiwan by force.
A world powered by renewable power would mitigate some of this risk. Renewable technology can be disrupted by supply chain issues just like oil. The difference with renewable energy is that impacts will be delayed as so much renewable energy technology exists already. Blockades would the delay building new technology, but there would be more time to look for alternative suppliers.
3. Critical Mineral Deposits
Lithium, copper, cobalt, graphite, rare earth metals are the critical materials which will replace oil and gas the engines of the global economy. There materials are all key components in modern clean technology. Copper is needed for electrification, lithium is critical ingredient in electric batteries, graphite for wind turbines.
The global energy transition all adds up to mining much more of these materials. The supply and refining of them will be become increasingly important as renewable energy takes centre stage across the globe. Control over the mining and supply chains of the raw materials and manufacturing will become a central and vital pillar of the global economy.
4. Belt and Road
China’s Belt and Road is the centre piece of China’s foreign Policy. How China invests overseas is crucial for determining the future of climate change. Like China itself the Belt and Road contains many contradictions. In 2021 investing in new coal projects overseas was banned by Beijing. But China still supports many existing coal and other fossil fuel projects across the globe.
If the Belt and Road can become a route for backing renewable energy and sustainable practices, it could become a catalyst for change, helping countries wean themselves off fossil fuels, building a clean energy future.
5. Renewable energy & Geopolitics
Geopolitical power in the future will shift to countries that are climate resilient. The places most prepared and able to withstand the ravages of climate change. Geopolitical influence will also derive from supplying renewable energy. Countries naturally endowed with windy regions, sunshine along with the infrastructure, technology, and institutions to support renewable energy are likely to emerge as winners.
Countries like Australia with ample land and sunshine can turn itself into a clean energy superpower, exporting energy to the fast-growing economies South-East Asia (a link is planned to Singapore). Saudi Arabia is a fossil fuel giant, but has the potential to shift to solar energy, thanks to natural abundance of sun and open space.
6. Global Lithium Map
Lithium is one of the materials that are crucial for electric car batteries (and other types of climate technology) one of the building blocks of a decarbonised world. Use of lithium is expected to rise four-fold over the next decade. Control of lithium mining and refining is becoming a major political issue as countries and corporations seek to control of the world’s lightest metal.
7. Changes in Agricultural Production
Rising temperatures are already transforming agriculture across the world, making it harder to certain staple crops like wheat as droughts grip Iraq and Syria, while wheat production in Russia and Canada increases as previously unproductive regions. Agricultural productivity is predicted to decline dangerously in warmer parts of the globe as extremes of heat make it harder to grow staple crops such as wheat or rice.
8. Fragile States overlapped with extreme heat.
Many countries face a combustible mixture of fragile states and extreme heat. Extremes of heat cause drought, desertification and crop failure (as plants wilt in the heat). These factors have knock on impacts, farmers forced to leave land, increasing pressure on food supply chains – in turn this puts pressure on government, increasing the likelihood of conflict and violence. The relationship between climate change and conflict is not straightforward, but it is a sure bet that rising temperatures will put further pressure on fragile states.
9. Climate Resilience
Resilience – a country’s ability to withstand the impacts of climate change will become a key metric overtime. Countries in Africa, South Asia and the Middle East are particularly vulnerable to climate change. Those states that are already fragile or lack the resources or capacity to build resilience run the risk of failing as climate risks act as a risk multiplier – with climate linked droughts, crop failures, extreme heat and flooding wreaking havoc on weak states.
10. The Arctic, Geopolitics and Climate Change
Climate change poses an existential threat to the Arctic – rising temperatures could leave the region ice free in the summer threatening it’s delicate eco-system. In a horrible irony the disappearing ice may open up the region to drilling for more oil. Although the reality of climate change may make fossil fuel exploration much less viable for political and economic reasons. The melting ice will open up new Arctic shipping routes cutting shipping times, but this commercial traffic will put yet more pressure on the fragile environment.