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The geopolitics of energy and environmental policy

This is the study programme for 2019/2020. It is subject to change.

This course provides insight in the role of energy and the environment in international politics. Starting with concepts for the understanding of the relationship between energy supply, political power and international affairs, it discusses important preconditions of reaching global and regional agreements on energy and environmental issues. This discussion covers different countries, actors and geographical areas, for example Norway, rising nations like China, the European Union, and energy producing regions such as the Arctic. By studying these cases from varying theoretical angles such as energy security, (neo-) realism and (neo-) liberalism, the course aims at developing a better understanding of the geopolitics of energy, that is energy on the highest level of the political system. Beyond classic issues of the geopolitics of energy such as the struggle over oil and gas resources, the course has a strong focus on energy transition and renewable energy.

Learning outcome

Learning outcomes:
After completing the course, the students have the following knowledge, skills and competencies:
In terms of knowledge, students will have insights into the following areas:
  • geopolitics and international relations theory
  • the role of energy in international politics
  • the concept of energy security
  • environmental and energy policy in a number of geographical areas
  • the impact of renewables on the geopolitics of energy
  • the fragmented system of global energy governance
  • controversies related to the on-going transition towards renewables
  • concepts and theories related to the subject of the course

In terms of skills, students should be able to achieve the following:
  • description of different cases with an importance to the geopolitics of energy
  • description of theoretical concepts related to the geopolitics of energy, e.g. energy security
  • application of a (number of) perspective(s) to a given case
  • addressing various challenges with regard to global energy governance
  • showing an understanding of international environmental negotiations and governance
  • assessing the links between the geopolitics of energy the energy transformation
  • critically assessing and evaluating different energy- and environment-related policy measures
  • demonstrating an understanding of the range and substance of political and policy issues related to energy politics and energy security concerns

In terms of general competencies, students should be capable of:
  • formulating and expressing knowledge about problems associated with today's system of energy governance
  • formulating and communicating challenges associated with bringing energy systems in alignment with ecological limits
  • processing quantitative as well as qualitative data
  • making effective oral and written presentations
  • showing a good capacity for independent learning


Energy has been described as the universal currency of our planet (Vaclav Smil). Its availability and conversion represents a fundamental prerequisite of economic processes. Given the relatively high energy density of fossil fuels, the use of carbon-based primary energy greatly expanded the economy of those countries having available the technologies necessary for its extraction and conversion. By transitioning from energies with relatively low energy densities (e.g. coal) to such with an ever higher energy density (e.g. oil), the expansion of the economy could be maintained for decades. Towards its later stages, this process culminated in the introduction of nuclear energy, which contemporaries interpreted as the dawn of a world of unlimited productivity and wealth. However, the rapid, energy driven economic growth soon revealed its downsides. While the new potential of human societies to change their surroundings lead to an increasing standard of living, it also intensified environmental problems and political conflicts. Hence, the use of fossil and nuclear energy may have brought us a little closer to utopia; but the price humanity paid for this is a move towards global disaster.
This course focusses on the dynamic relationship between the energy transition and power relations in the international state system, that is major changes in the energy system on the one hand and the structure of international politics on the other. The switch to fossil fuels and later nuclear energy represents a formidable example in this regard: it implied a massive increase of power for individual human societies that was unseen until the middle of the 19th century, and - given the anarchical structure of the state system - forced other nations to seek similar power. With a focus on policies and actions to secure energy supply, this course discusses the structure of today's international system, and analyses the role of energy in this context - its use, access to and control over. This includes different geographical areas (e.g. Europe and Asia), forms of energy (e.g. oil and electricity), and theories such as energy security, (neo-)realism and (neo-)liberalism. Point of departure is the switch to fossil fuels and its effect on power relations between countries. Later, the course discusses the global transition to renewables and how it alters the relations between states and power blocks. Being frontrunners of this latest energy transition, Europe and China stand in the focus of this part of the course. Beyond topics directly linked to energy, the course also looks into areas where energy plays a more indirect role, namely the negotiation of international environmental agreements.

Required prerequisite knowledge



Weight Duration Marks Aid
School exam1/14 hoursA - FDictionary.

Coursework requirements

Student assignments
Four short texts have to be submitted (300 words each); dates will be announced at the beginning of the course.

Course teacher(s)

Course coordinator
Thomas Michael Sattich , Oluf Langhelle

Method of work

  • Lectures
  • Excursion(s)
  • Group work, seminar
  • Student assignments
  • After-class study group (non-mandatory):
  • To explore individual texts and relevant issues in detail, an after-class study is formed. This group study primarily discuss the course literature, but topical events may be included.

Open to

Energy, Environment and Society - masterstudium
Change Management - Master's Degree Programme
Societal safety - Master's degree programme
Exchange Students at Faculty of Arts and Education
Exchange programmes at UIS Business School
Exchange programme at Faculty of Social Sciences
Exchange programme at Faculty of Science and Technology

Course assessment

Student evaluation will be conducted in accordance with the evaluation system of the faculty.


Kuzemko, C., Keating, M. F. and Goldthau, A. (2016) The Global Energy Challenge. Environment, Development and Security (London: Palgrave Macmillan)
The complete syllabus will be announced at the start of the course.
Changes in course curriculum can occur. These will be announced before course start on Canvas.

This is the study programme for 2019/2020. It is subject to change.

Sist oppdatert: 23.11.2019