This project spans the length of the UKERC 4 research programme and is a continuation of work started in the Resource and Vectors theme of UKERC 3. It is led by Professor Mike Bradshaw at Warwick Business School and involves researchers at Durham University, UCL and the University of Southampton, as well as the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies.

The geopolitics of energy is understood to be the political consequences of patterns of supply and demand, and inter-state and market relations. The project is divided into five over-lapping work packages that together will provide a comprehensive assessment of the global context for the UK’s transition to net-zero.

Theoretical review and framing

This first work package will develop a new approach combing energy research in geography, international political economy (IPE), economics and business and management using a whole-systems framework. A review of established research on geopolitics and the energy security challenges related to the current fossil fuel energy system, alongside the geopolitics of renewable energy will be used to develop a whole system framing of the geopolitics of energy system transformation.

Case studies

This second work package will deliver a number of case studies that demonstrate the potential for energy system transformation to generate new geopolitics of energy. This strand of research builds on previous UKERC work on natural gas and the impact of unconventional oil and gas.

  • The first case study, based at Durham University, will examine the emerging global production networks that are underpinning the development of low-carbon energy technologies, including manufacturing and critical raw materials – linking to the Energy, Environment and LandscapesEnergy for Mobility and TPA activities.
  • The second case study will explore the changing role of liquefied natural gas (LNG) in meeting the UK gas demand and is part of a collaboration with the OIES. The third case study, also with OIES, will involve a comparative case study of how Russia and Saudi Arabia, the two largest fossil fuel exporters, are preparing themselves for the energy transition. The findings of this research will feed into  wider studies regarding the plight of fossil fuel producing economies as the global energy system seeks to decarbonise.

Energy futures review and modelling

In this third work package, the UCL project team will evaluate existing ‘global energy futures’ and create a set of typical decarbonisation scenarios using TIAM-UCL.  They will then create a further set of scenarios based on geopolitical narratives, for fossil fuels and renewables, and will evaluate the extent to which the model is able to produce plausible scenarios from a political economy perspective.  This will help us to understand how scenario modelling could be improved in the future to mitigate the shortcomings that are identified.

TIAM-UCL takes a similar approach to many other energy system models by identifying future energy pathways, and hence commodity trading, that minimise the total cost of supplying energy across the world.  In reality, there is no such benevolent cooperation between countries.  Fossil fuel and other commodity trade are strongly affected by geopolitical concerns.

Impacts on environment, emissions and trade

This fourth work package builds on the earlier Advent project and is led by the University of Southampton and will be delivered in close collaboration with the Energy, Environment and landscape theme. The ‘transition scenarios’ developed by UCL will be used to assess the potential impact of energy system transformation on global ecosystems. This will also allow the scenarios to be test against global ecosystem service capacity in areas such as biomass production and trade.


This final work package will assess the impact of energy system transformation across a number of dimensions: geopolitical, economic and environmental. A final assessment of the global context for the UK’s net-zero energy transition will also inform the final stages of other UKERC 4 research activities.

Further reading

  • Blog: ‘Problems in the pipeline for Putin‘. In this Chatham House blog, Philip Hanson and Michael Bradshaw warn that the pandemic will hit Russia harder
  • Paper: Richard Connolly, Philip Hanson & Michael Bradshaw (2020) It’s déjà vu all over again: COVID-19, the global energy market, and the Russian economy, Eurasian Geography and Economics, DOI: 10.1080/15387216.2020.1776627