The workshop Energy Security in the Era of Climate Change: A Dialogue on Current Trends and Future Options will reconsider the whole notion of energy security and its global and regional implications, with particular reference to Australia and the Asia-Pacific region.

The aim, however, is to go beyond traditional conceptions of energy security in order to place the phenomenon in its wider social context. Particular attention will focus on the human security implications predicament now confronting energy policy at national, regional and global level.

Traditionally, energy security has been conceived primarily in economic and geopolitical terms. The economic dimension centres predominantly on the twin notions of supply (security and sufficiency) and price. In other words, both industrialised and industrialising economies have become increasingly anxious about their increasing dependence on oil and gas supplies located primarily in the Middle East, the former Soviet Union, Venezuela and Nigeria. In 2006 the largest net importers were the United States, Japan, China, Germany, South Korea, France, India, Italy, Spain and Taiwan whereas the largest exporters were Saudi Arabia, Russia, Norway, Iran, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, Kuwait, Nigeria, Algeria and Mexico.

The inflation adjusted price of oil rose from $22.20 in 1973 to $66.40 in 2007. These three factors (the imminent decline of exportable oil supplies, the concentration of those supplies in regions known for their political instability or hostility to one or other of the major oil importing countries, and the likelihood that the price of oil will continue on its upward path) have in turn combined to heighten geopolitical tensions both between oil exporting and oil importing countries, and perhaps more importantly amongst importing countries vying for security of supply, including access to or control of strategic oil and gas pipelines. These tensions have already influenced strategic calculations and military deployments – a trend that is likely to gather momentum in coming years.

The contemporary energy security dilemma, though it shares a number of common features with the energy crisis of the early 1970s, is both more challenging and more complex. Numerous factors have contributed to actual or threatened supply disruptions in recent years – from the impact of extreme weather events on highly centralised energy networks, to oil worker strikes in Venezuela; from rapidly increasing energy demand in fast growing economies, notably India and China, to decreasing domestic fossil fuel supplies in the United States and Europe. Assessments of these crises and the responses to them have been equally varied, reflecting diverse and at times conflicting interests, perspectives and policy environments.

Yet energy security is emerging as an even more challenging predicament than this characterisation would suggest. The first and most obvious additional factor in need of urgent consideration is the impact of energy consumption on climate change – now the subject of intense public scrutiny and complex and at times painful national and international policy debate. However, the necessary response to the reality of global warming raises equally difficult questions of equity in both national and international contexts. If greenhouse gas emissions are to be reduced, how is responsibility to be shared between high and low energy consumers, between rich and poor societies, between those that have historically recorded high rates of nervy usage and those that are presently embarked on such a course?

On reflection, the economic, geopolitical and ecological questions associated with energy security are also profoundly cultural. At stake is not only the development of new sources of energy (and the economic and technological requirements of such an option), but a host of other considerations which have far-reaching societal and cultural implications. These include: patterns of consumption, work processes and practices, transportation & communication systems, the relationship of the public and private spheres, urban structure and architecture, and land cultivation practices. Many of the scholars invited, though their primary disciplinary background is in politics, international relations, sociology or environmental studies, have been chosen precisely because they thought creatively and written extensively about these wider implications.

No single workshop can do justice to this bewildering array of diverse causes, effects and possible future options. But what is clearly needed is a perspective that is attuned to the global scope and multidimensional character of the issues under examination. This suggests that the challenge-response dynamic that underlies energy security in the contemporary period (namely ‘the era of climate change’) can be most fruitfully considered by placing it within the ‘human security’ framework. At issue is not only the security of states and the role of governments, but the security of economies, of national and local communities, of the environment, and indirectly at least of the efficacy of national, regional and global decision making processes and institutions.

The Human security perspective is especially helpful because it encourages serious consideration of the multidimensionality of security discourse and practice. The 1994 UNDP Human Development Report, which popularised the concept, set out two key dimensions of human security: freedom from fear and freedom from want, both of which are central to the contemporary energy security dilemma. The UNDP report went on to identify seven domains where human security was challenged: economic security, food security, environmental security, personal security, community security, military security and political security. To a greater or lesser extent, all seven domains are pertinent to the challenges posed by energy security, not least for Australia’s domestic and external policies.

With this in mind, the proposed workshop will adopt an inter-disciplinary and trans-disciplinary approach. Its main focus will be on the complex interplay of four key sets of considerations in the assessment of energy security options for Australia, its region and the world: economic, geopolitical, environmental and cultural. It is this complex interplay that is often lost sight of in current academic and policy discussions. In this sense, the workshop proposes to make a significant contribution to the emerging intellectual debate on one of the most pressing issues confronting the national and international policy agenda.