New research suggests renewables may not necessarily foster democracy, peace


From pv magazine Global

A group of researchers led by the University of Erfurt have found that there is “no support” for the widely held belief that renewable energy generation can foster peace and reduce conflict.

“We find no evidence for the ‘peace through prosperity’ argument,” the academics – Juergen Braunstein, Andreas Goldthau and Konstantin Veit – wrote in their published paper.

“Even if states deploy renewables at a large scale, the lack of an ‘energy democracy effect’ suggests they may not necessarily abstain from going to war thanks to embracing distributed energy systems at home.”

Geopolitical experts often argue that renewable energy sources, due to their distributed nature, may lead to global stability. It is suggested that these energy sources can reduce conflicts between nations by either encouraging individual countries to become more self-sufficient or by increasing cooperation between neighboring countries. These nations may find technical and economic advantages in sharing their resources, which may lead to peaceful outcomes.

The three academics put this theory – of peace through prosperous renewable energy generation – to the test by conducting a series of statistical assessments using data from a range of sources. This includes information from Thompson Reuters SDC Platinum, the World Bank’s Varieties of Democracy, the World Bank’s Governance Indicators and the Human Development Index (HDI) of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

“Using a longitudinal dataset on global renewable energy investment, econometric tests suggest that distributed renewable energy systems do not seem to foster democratic rule, nor do they have a significant influence on human development,” the academics stated.

Although the researchers wrote that it is “hard to test” the assertion of the ability of renewables to foster peace and democracy, and more research is required, they found that this ability is impacted by the location and utilization of renewable energy generation plants. “It makes a difference whether renewables are deployed in a conflict-prone setting or a politically stable environment,” they also said.

They also found that clean energies foster peace in areas where renewable investments are “concentrated” rather than distributed. “With this, a core assumption of the energy democracy literature is put in question, that is renewables redistributing power to local communities and individuals, and by extension foster democratic rule at the national level,” the paper stated.

They also found that deploying renewables does not necessarily lead to a country or region’s economic development. “The hypothesis based on the capitalist peace rationale needs to be rejected: as per the statistical test, renewables do not seem to induce development and therefore lower the level and likelihood of conflict,” the paper stated.

Although their research shows that renewables do not have a pacifying effect on democracy or human security, these energy sources may be relevant for peace and stability through other mechanisms. It also may take time to see their long-term impacts, the paper stated.

The researchers published their findings in the paper “Does climate action bring peace? Assessing the geopolitics of renewables using global investment data,” published in npj climate action.

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