Energy Security and Climate Change Program

About the Energy Security and Climate Change Program

About the Program

Climate change poses grave risks to humanity; confronting it will require a massive transformation of the world’s energy systems. The burning of fossil fuels has already caused temperatures to climb 1.1°C since preindustrial times. To avert the worst impacts of climate change, scientists agree that the world must keep global temperature rise below 1.5°C above preindustrial levels. Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, countries pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions to limit warming to well below 2°C and to pursue efforts toward the 1.5°C ceiling. Reaching this goal will require a swift transition away from fossil fuels toward renewable energy, like wind and solar power.

The war in Ukraine has laid bare the threat that continued reliance on fossil fuels poses to energy security. Simultaneously, the increasingly destructive impacts wrought by global climate change have highlighted the need to speed the transition toward clean power to prevent worsening extremes. As a result, a race is on to commercialize breakthrough technologies and seize the ballooning global market for advanced energy products—while China is out to an early lead, the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, which invests heavily in clean energy technologies, will help the United States remain competitive in the global clean energy economy. In the coming decades, renewable energy sources could substantially displace fossil fuels across the globe.

Even as the world turns to clean energy to combat climate change, policymakers need to confront past emissions that are already changing the climate. To do so, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—the scientific consensus-based group that informs UN climate negotiations—has concluded that carbon dioxide removal is critical. To counterbalance emissions from hard-to-abate sectors, such as aviation and shipping, carbon dioxide removal is an essential tool.

Alongside efforts to contain warming, policymakers should address the impacts of climate change that are already here, devastating communities around the world. Recent years have seen record-setting heatwaves, raging wildfires, persistent droughts, damaging floods, and intensifying storms. These extremes severely disrupt critical infrastructure, which has been designed almost entirely for past conditions—not for the present climate or the climate of the future.  Governments, businesses, and communities need to adapt to withstand the climate disruptions. Adaptation, along with mitigation of harmful greenhouse gas emissions, will enable countries to build resilience to the mounting threats. The program on Energy Security and Climate Change at the Council on Foreign Relations informs scientists, business leaders, policymakers, and the public about how to navigate the complex energy transition and what to expect from tomorrow’s energy and environment landscapes.