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Climate change and energy security: an analysis of policy research


The literature on climate change’s impacts on energy security is scattered across disparate fields of research and schools of thought. Much of this literature has been produced outside of the academy by scholars and practitioners working in “think tanks,” government agencies, and international/multilateral institutions. Here we reviewed a selected set of 58 articles and reports primarily from such sources and performed textual analysis of the arguments. Our review of this literature identifies three potential mechanisms for linking climate change and energy security: Climate change may 1) create second-order effects that may exacerbate social instability and disrupt energy systems; 2) directly impact energy supply and/or systems or 3) influence energy security through the effects of climate-related policies. We identify emerging risks to energy security driven by climate mitigation technology choices but find less evidence of climate change’s direct physical impacts. We used both empirical and qualitative selection factors for choosing the grey literature sample. The sources we selected were published in the last 5 years, available through electronic media and were written in language accessible to general policy or academic readers. The organizations that published the literature had performed previous research in the general fields of energy and/or climate change with some analytical content and identified themselves as non-partisan. This literature is particularly valuable to scholars because identifies understudied relationships that can be rigorously assessed through academic tools and methodologies and informs a translational research agenda that will allow scholars to engage with practitioners to address challenges that lie at the nexus of climate change and energy security.

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    Other organizations that have used the same or similar definitions include the International Energy Agency (IEA), the European Commission, and the U.S. Senate (Staley et al. 2009).

  2. 2.

    Photovoltaic (solar) and wind plants that produce a negligible amount of total world power are the only two generation technologies that do not require significant quantities of water for operation (Atlantic Council 2011).

  3. 3.

    The international community defines climate mitigation as the “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system” (UN 1992).

  4. 4.

    This recommendation is at odds, however, with others such as (Yohe 2010) who argue that significant GHG emissions reductions must begin immediately to achieve any long-term climate stabilization goal at the minimum cost.

  5. 5.

    For a review of a possible timeline for environmental regulations in the U.S. power utility sector see, World Resources Institute’s factsheet at


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Correspondence to Marcus DuBois King.

Additional information

This article is part of a Special Issue on “Climate and Security: Evidence, Emerging Risks, and a New Agenda” edited by François Gemenne, Neil Adger, Jon Barnett, and Geoff Dabelko.

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King, M.D., Gulledge, J. Climate change and energy security: an analysis of policy research. Climatic Change 123, 57–68 (2014).

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  • Climate Change
  • Grey Literature
  • Energy Security
  • Social Instability
  • Rare Earth Mineral