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Your Guide to the Global Energy Security Talks (GEST) 2024 - Tokyo

As the May issue of Equilibrium arrives in your inboxes, the Global Energy Security Institute (GESI) team is in Tokyo preparing to host GEST 2024. This year’s GEST comes at a time of unprecedented challenge to the security of global energy production, transportation, and distribution due to rising demand, wars in Ukraine and the Middle East, and a host of other factors.

The community of energy, policy, and security experts and professionals represented at GEST have a lot to cover, with the goal of building shared awareness and creative thinking for how to advise and navigate in such an environment.

The three-day GEST program will take on the following topics:

  • Energy Security in a Fast-Changing Geopolitical Landscape

  • NATO, Future Warfare, and Energy Security

  • NATO Centers of Excellence as a Means for Security Coordination

  • The Intersection of Cyber Security and Energy Security

  • The Middle Corridor

  • Defining Energy Security

  • Indo-Pacific Energy Security Dynamics

  • Operational Energy and Potential Conflict in the Indo-Pacific

  • U.S. Elections and Energy Security

  • The Challenge of Carbon Intensity

  • Energy Diplomacy and Security

  • Business, Investment, and Energy Security

  • What to do about Nuclear

  • What to do about China

  • What do to about the “Death of the Global Commons”

The articles in the current issue of Equilibrium touch on some of these topics and can serve as teasers for the discussions at GEST itself. For those unable to attend in person this year, GESI plans to circulate a synopsis of lessons learned and recommendations based on the conference proceedings.

With participating experts from a dozen countries and backgrounds, from defense and policy to industry and academia, the networking and dialogue opportunities promise great depth and variety on these important topics. We plan to continue this world-class dialogue and exchange of ideas next year with GEST 2025.

Key Themes in Tokyo

Based on the topic selection and an early look at the presenters’ preparations, we expect robust debate and fresh new insights at the proceedings. Some propositions that will feature in the discussions might include the following:

  • It is possible to support clean energy and effective climate adaptation on the one hand and be realistic regarding energy transition prospects and timelines. The current public policy environment in the U.S. and Europe frequently features a binary proposition that creates rapidly pivoting policies, which is not helpful for long-term stable strategies that account for secure and sustainable energy now and in the future.

  • This binary framing not only crowds out discussion of alternative transition strategies and realistic timelines but also creates geopolitical risk for the West and its network of allies. That is the fundamental purpose of this conference and set of discussions—to consider energy security in the broad sense.

  • Security of supply is a key consideration for countries like Hungary and Japan, which do not produce significant amounts of their own energy. Security of supply depends, in turn, upon trust among producers and buyers, adequate investment in infrastructure, assurance of policy support to contracts and market function, and realistic public-facing discussions of diversification and energy mix. It is not clear that the current public policy environment in Western capitals fosters these things.

  • Wars in Ukraine and the Middle East have brought into question the physical security of our energy systems: production facilities, storage sites, transportation, and distribution systems all have been, or likely will be, subject to physical or cyber-attack in the near term. Assumptions of predictable and rational global energy flows cannot be taken at face value, and allies need to think through worst-case scenarios and prepare for contested or disrupted energy supply. This conference will include two exercises designed to provoke thought and discussion.

  • Energy has become more than just an economic tool - it is a geopolitical tool in the contest for influence among Great Powers and others. Each country pursues energy strategies and policies reflective of its national interests, favoring certain producers, suppliers, and technologies while undercutting others. There is a geopolitical logic, not an apolitical or strictly economic logic, at work in global energy decisions. Partners must consider common vulnerabilities, as well as common opportunities, across the spectrum of energy policy from sourcing, investment, access, transportation, and transition to cooperate most effectively. National and alliance leaders must anticipate the targeting of their own and allied energy infrastructure in the course of regional conflicts.

  • Yet, in such a geopolitical environment, national leaders' first task is to ensure their public has energy and, if possible, energy independence. The goals of allies and partners are also important, but where national well-being and alliance geopolitics diverge, each country must privilege the former over the latter. Medium- and long-term strategies should seek convergence with allies, of course, and reduce areas of divergence - but as with the issue of energy transition, the geopolitical aspect of collective energy security must be assessed and pursued at a realistic pace.

  • It is also essential for the West to remember the energy dilemmas faced by developing countries and the developing world. There are tradeoffs involved with national decision-makers in many countries that don't fit neatly into the paradigm of rapid transition and climate crisis as organizing principles for energy policy. Ensuring that energy transition planning in the developing world does not preclude economic development and resilience will require a great deal of consultation and collaboration. For instance, projections of fossil fuel usage peaking by 2030 may rest on unrealistic projections about development in non-Western countries.

The Need for a More Agile Energy Alliance

Like national security in the broader sense, energy security is a national obligation with multilateral imperatives attached. It requires careful nesting within other dimensions of security - geopolitical, cyber, maritime, market, terrestrial - at the national and alliance levels. While markets operate more or less globally, policy coordination mechanisms do so only intermittently and partially.

For that reason, more robust dialogue at formal and informal levels—including events such as GEST—plays a vital role in adapting to the energy security challenge. The current iteration of GEST aims to do so by stimulating dialogue, ideas, and recommendations that enrich analysis and debate within the relevant policy, security, and business communities.

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