Can the World Go Green Without Destabilizing Oil-Pumping Nations?

The planned shift to renewable energy will risk violence in fragile oil states.

Research described in this article was funded by a USIP grant and conducted by the World Peace Foundation’s “Decarbonization and Peace in Fragile States” project. The project’s researchers are: Shahla al-Kli, Katrina Burgess, Javier Corrales, Joshua Craze, Alex de Waal, Jared Miller, Luke Patey, Jan Pospisil, Aditya Sarkar, Benjamin J. Spatz.

This article was originally published on the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) website on June 23, 2021.


Amid the dizzying acceleration of headlines and debate about the vital global transition to renewable energy, new research shows how that change could destabilize dozens of fragile states that depend heavily on oil exports. The new study underscores that governments and international institutions will need to guard against risks that the shift away from carbon-heavy fuels will inadvertently upset political balances and potentially ignite violent conflicts in a swath of nations from Venezuela to Nigeria to Iraq and beyond. Above all, the research suggests, the world must avoid an unplanned “traumatic decarbonization” of these economies.

The U.S. recommitment to the Paris climate accords — plus summit conferences called by the Biden administration, the G7 nations and NATO — reflect the reality that countries are moving to cut their oil consumption in hope of constraining the planet’s warming. Politicians in the world’s more comfortably developed nations focus on managing this transition to serve their own economies and polities, meeting costs and generating jobs, with an eye toward winning the next election.

Where Oil Buys Stability

Yet fragile states that produce a large share of the world’s oil face a different, more acute problem set. Their leaders, rarely confronted with true electoral challenges, pursue political survival instead by cutting deals among contentious and often violent elite factions. The deals typically involve material benefits linked to the cash from oil exports. When these countries face a sudden cutoff of their cash flow, leaders must either bargain — or battle — for slices of a smaller pie.

Read the full article, Can the World Go Green Without Destabilizing Oil-Pumping Nations?

Photo: Oil Drums, Baron Reznik (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Dr. Benjamin J. Spatz is Senior Lecturer at the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business and a WPF-affiliated researcher. His expertise centers on the political economy of conflict, corruption and illicit finance, and conflict management. As a recognized expert in sanctions, he was previously appointed to the United Nations Security Council Panel of Experts on Liberia. In 2023 he is on leave to serve as Expert Policy Advisor in the U.S. Treasury Department as a Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellow; the views expressed are his own and do not reflect those of the U.S. Government.

Alex de Waal is a Research Professor at The Fletcher School, Tufts University, and leads the WPF research programs on African Peacemaking and Mass Starvation.

Considered one of the foremost experts on the Horn of Africa, his scholarly work and practice has also probed humanitarian crisis and response, human rights, pandemic disease, and conflict and peace-building. His latest book is New Pandemics, Old Politics: Two Hundred Years of War on Disease and its Alternatives. He is also author of Mass Starvation: The History and Future of Famine and The Real Politics of the Horn of Africa (Polity Press, 2015) Following a fellowship with the Global Equity Initiative at Harvard (2004-06), he worked with the Social Science Research Council as Director of the program on HIV/AIDS and Social Transformation, and led projects on conflict and humanitarian crises in Africa (2006-09). During 2005-06, de Waal was seconded to the African Union mediation team for Darfur and from 2009-11 served as senior adviser to the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel for Sudan. He was on the list of Foreign Policy’s 100 most influential public intellectuals in 2008 and Atlantic Monthly’s 27 “brave thinkers” in 2009 and is the winner of the 2024 Huxley Award of the Royal Anthropological Institute. Professor de Waal regularly teaches a course on Conflict in Africa at the Fletcher School, Tufts University.  During this course, students should gain a deeper understanding of the nature of contemporary violent conflict in Africa. Students will be expected to master the key theoretical approaches to violence in Africa, and to become familiar with a number of important case studies. The focus is on the origins and nature of violence, rather than policy responses and solutions. The course is inter-disciplinary and involves readings in political science, international relations, and social anthropology, while also touching on economics, environmental studies, and history. 

Aditya Sarkar is a PhD student at the Fletcher School at Tufts University, and an independent researcher. He has been a World Peace Foundation-affiliated researcher since 2017, and has advised the ILO and the Governments of Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia on developing National Employment Policies, and has consulted with the World Bank, and the Open Society Foundations. Aditya is qualified as a lawyer in India and in England and Wales. He previously worked with Linklaters LLP (a global law firm) in London as well as the Ministry of Commerce in India. He holds a master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and is a graduate of the National Law School of India University in Bangalore, India. His research focuses on the political economy of transactional political systems, labour, and migration/displacement.

Stay Connected