Energy Transitions and International Cooperation in the 20th Century
Human societies have always depended on the use of energy but the dominant forms of primary energy have changed over time. Especially the 20th century witnessed dramatic energy transitions. Coal, as the major energy resource in the first two thirds of the century, was increasingly replaced by oil after the Second World War. Due to expectations of future oil scarcity and the experience of the first oil crisis in 1973/74, however, experts criticized the world’s growing dependence on oil and many governments sought to diversify their energy sectors by developing nuclear energy, which became an important factor in power generation. But, nuclear energy did not live up to its initial promises and, as environmental concerns have grown, renewable energies have emerged as serious competitors to hydrocarbons since the 1990s.
Since the “Energiewende” has become a primary political goal, a growing body of energy historiography has analyzed both the causes and consequences of earlier energy transitions. Yet, so far, there has not been a systematic discussion of the connections between energy transitions and international cooperation. Our conference aims to fill this gap, combining research on energy transitions with research on international cooperation mainly in organizations, such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Organization of Oil Exporting Countries (OPEC) or the International Energy Agency (IEA). We are seeking to address the following questions: How did energy transitions trigger the founding of new international organizations and how, in turn, did international organizations try to influence energy transitions? What were the effects of broader international developments, such as Cold War or the North-South conflict, on international energy cooperation? Was the wave of international institution building in the second half of the 20th century also a consequence of an increasingly globalized energy economy? And, if that was the case, will the increasing use of more local renewable forms of energy have an effect on the stability of these international institutions? Discussing these questions, the conference will aim to deepen our understanding of both energy transitions and the evolution of the international system in the 20th century.
PD Dr. Rüdiger Graf and PD Dr. Henning Türk (Leibniz-Zentrum für Zeithistorische Forschung/Leibniz-Centre for Contemporary History, Potsdam)