Territorial disputes over fossil fuel resources are not at all uncommon. In Iraq, Mosul and Kirkuk are contested because of the oil fields around them. The East China Sea has been the location for multiple disputes over gas, between Japan and China. The Spartley Islands in the South China Sea are disputed over largely because of fossil fuel resources, as may become the case with the Falkland Islands again. Allegations of horizontal drilling into Iraqi oilfields provided the pretext for Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. Likewise, Nigeria’s Delta State is a hotbed of conflict. And so on, and so on, around the world.
While a world that is not dependent on fossil fuels is a long way off, it is worth mentioning that a reduction in the bitterness of such conflicts is a likely outcome from states replacing their fossil-fuel-driven energy systems with those based around renewable and zero-carbon forms of energy. Even if states that produce oil and gas continue to use it, diminished demand from other states would reduce prices and thus the incentive to go after all available fossil fuel reserves. Without billions of dollars in investment from international oil and gas firms, many of these resources would stay underground where they can induce neither conflict nor climate change. By making fossil fuels less valuable compared to other resources, decarbonization could help to reduce the harm done by the ‘resource curse‘ – the idea that rich stocks of natural resources can make states prone to corruption, conflict, and mismanagement.
None of this is to say that there is a clear and direct link between the move towards renewable power and decreased conflicts over resources. Indeed, there may even be conflicts over new kinds of resources as new forms of energy grow in prominence. Still, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to hope that the transition of the global economy towards carbon neutrality could help draw some of the venom out from these conflicts and allow people to focus their attention on less self-destructive undertakings. That would be all the more welcome, given the extent to which stresses from climate change may exacerbate conflicts in other parts of the world.