As the multi-partner research programme prepares to enter its second phase, some of the lead researchers explain how Mistra Geopolitics contributes to sustainability, and what is planned for the next four years.
In its first four years Mistra Geopolitics has taken a multi-disciplinary look at the geopolitical implications of deep, rapid environmental change. This change challenges many of the ideas, concepts and spatial categories that have shaped our modern worldview and security policy: the relationship between man and nature; friends and foes; national and global security; winners and losers. At a time when the world map is being fundamentally redrawn, we need to rethink established political concepts, institutions and forms of international cooperation.
In June 2020, Mistra, the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research, approved funding for a new four-year phase of Mistra Geopolitics. In this new phase, the programme will be organized around three analytical themes:
Theme 1: Interconnected risks and vulnerabilities
Examines the complex interactions between our interconnected global economy and the global ecology. In particular it will look at the distribution of environmental risks and vulnerabilities along the often complex global supply chains connecting producers and consumers, and who is responsible for addressing them.
Theme 2: Security for whom, where and how?
Looks at how security policy can be defined and designed to meet the complex, large-scale and existential risks that our interconnected and environmentally changing world holds. Who and what needs to be kept secure, and against what?
Theme 3: New forms of politics and governance
What political institutions, decision-making paths and forms of governance could take shape as the geopolitical map is redrawn? What will state and intergovernmental cooperation look like in a time of environmental-political turmoil, and what role could businesses and civil society play in the political work of building a more sustainable future?
Various research projects will carry out in-depth empirical studies around these theoretical issues. The new phase will feature the same six partners: SEI, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), and the universities of Linköping, Stockholm, Lund and Uppsala.
Here, some of the lead researchers in Mistra Geopolitics reflect on the programme’s achievements and future.
Q: There is a lot of ongoing research to understand the transition toward a more sustainable world. Why is a second phase of Mistra Geopolitics needed?
Åsa Persson, Research Director and Deputy Director, SEI: The sustainability transition is no longer just a buzzword, it is happening. However, it is taking place in geographically uneven ways and with unpredictable turns, which is why a research programme putting geopolitics and foresight at the centre has proved so valuable, both for science and for stakeholders.
Malin Mobjörk, Senior Researcher and Director of the Climate Change and Risk Programme at SIPRI:The purpose of Mistra Geopolitics is to help us navigate a changing and interconnected world. We often hear, especially in rather abstract terms, that we live in an increasingly connected world. An important contribution of Mistra Geopolitics is to illustrate what these connections look like, what risks they entail, and how we can mitigate those risks and increase human security and sustainable development.
Q: In what way does Mistra Geopolitics contribute to a sustainable world?
Eva Lövbrand, Senior Lecturer, Linköping University: Part of the programme’s mission is to analyse how the redrawn world map affects opportunities to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. By bringing together expertise from different research areas and community functions, Mistra Geopolitics promotes cross-border conversations. The programme thus functions as a knowledge platform, where the geographical and political assumptions of the sustainability transition can be elucidated, problematized and reformulated.
Åsa Persson: The launch of this programme four years ago was incredibly timely, in that geopolitics took some dramatic turns, both in response to and with consequences for the sustainability agenda and the environmental change we are witnessing. Now, with a second phase, we will further sharpen our science-based analysis and foresight, and bring in new expertise on how new technologies play into this nexus of issues.
Q: What are some of the issues you look forward to working with in the next four years?
Eva Lövbrand: In the second phase of Mistra Geopolitics, I am leading a project that seeks to understand the fossil-fuel economy’s interests, distribution and identity policies. We are investigating how continued investment in fossil fuel infrastructure (oil, coal) is justified in light of the ambitious climate goals of the Paris Agreement. Which political actors fund and sustain the fossil economy, and how can fossil-fueled development paths be broken? I will focus on fossil fuel-intensive regions in Europe and analyse how the European Union’s mechanism for fair change is designed to break down fossil fuel lock-in effects and counter growing climate scepticism and populism.
Karl Hallding, Senior Research Fellow, SEI: In the second phase we will continue to develop structured techniques for analysing uncertainties, risks and strategic opportunities. Disruptive events such as the COVID-19 pandemic, and even the shorter-term outlook, create considerable uncertainties about the future. Our foresight approaches will scan and evaluate developments across different fields and provide integrated assessments of how geopolitical realities will come to shape the options for reaching the Sustainable Development Goals, with a particular focus on the role that new technologies may come to play in these transformative processes.
Working in close collaboration with different knowledge and policy communities, we will explore how actors – supranational, national and non-state – anticipate change and can further develop their capacities to cope with it.
Written by Eva Krutmeijer & Brenda Ochola