Carbon Compacts, Decarbonization, and Peace in Fragile States in Africa and the Middle East


How will traumatic decarbonization affect peace processes and political settlements in fragile oil-producing states in Africa and the Middle East?

Political settlements in such states are ‘carbon compacts’: oil revenues are central to national economies, the functioning of political systems, and provide the discretionary funds needed by politicians to secure and retain power. Peace agreements may be structured around allocating revenue streams to those who have leverage over oil production and funds, and when oil revenues dry up, these states are plunged into turmoil. We call this ‘traumatic decarbonization.’

As the world transitions away from fossil fuels, political funds available in oil-producing states will be dramatically reduced. Our particular focus is on these as-yet-unexamined topics: how the reductions in oil revenues will impact political management and political budgets. This is particularly concerning since just as the cash income available from oil production lubricates peace processes it also leads to unsustainable and/or inflationary loyalty payments. In addition, control over oil production and sale currently determines who has sufficient leverage in order to obtain a seat at the negotiating table, whether an actor/group must use violence to substitute for cash, or whether actors/groups are excluded completely. Most importantly, under the current political settlement models, if political funds dry up violence becomes more likely. Efforts to find substitutes for oil rents may lead political elites to other forms of dependence: on other minerals, mercenarism, foreign patrons, etc., all of which have complex implications for peace and political settlements.

This project has three main components:

  • We will examine the role of mineral resources in the wealth-sharing components of peace agreements and in the political budgets of the leaders who sign peace agreements. We will examine the substantive content of the wealth sharing components of peace agreements and the relationship between budgetary expansion and the timing of peace agreements.
  • Second, we will examine the actual experiences of countries that have experienced ‘traumatic decarbonization’, i.e. a massive forced reduction in revenue from oil. We will focus on the cases of Nigeria, South Sudan, Sudan and Iraq, but also bring in experience from other countries including Venezuela and Yemen.
  • Third, we will commission comparative studies to examine the dynamics of carbon compacts under different political circumstances. One question will be, how do (broadly) democratic political systems change with the availability of oil/gas/coal production? A second will be, how can the sustainable energy transition also be a democratic transition? In this regard, we will explore whether there are other modes of peacemaking that minimize the need for rent-based structures of political financing, either through alternative sources of political funds or through a different logic of political agreement that does not require expanded political funding.

The goal is to develop innovative peacebuilding/mediation models not based on allocation of oil rents as a way of ‘buying’ peace. To that end, the primary objective of this project is setting the agenda for that conversation. Current global energy-related academic and policy efforts emphasize and encourage the shift from a carbon-based energy to sustainable sources, and many attendant issues (shifts in labor markets, economic impacts, scientific and technological gaps and shifts, environmental consequences, etc.). However, there is little to no attention on the political impacts of shifting to sustainable energy sources, especially in fragile states that do not have the fiscal or institutional capacity to plan for the impacts of the energy transition. This is a crucial oversight since theory and experience suggest that unplanned or traumatic decarbonization will impact political dynamics in violent monetized political systems, likely in ways that have negative implications for the use of violence, and undermine the prospects for peace and the durability of political settlements. We seek to explore these issues and frame the necessary conversation around the risks and implications of decarbonization on elite politics in these countries.

This program is funded by a grant from the U.S Institute of Peace.

The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Institute of Peace.

Photo: Oil Barrels, Baron Reznik, January 13, 2015 (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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