Welcome to 2047.

The last natural gas power plant shut down due to economic difficulties on the 18th September this year. Coincidentally, the last petrol-powered car was converted in a garage in northern Angola to be electric on the same day. With the help of a massive campaign for reforestation and huge advances in carbon capture technology, as well as the world ending its use of fossil fuels at a speed thought unthinkable mere decades before, the world's been carbon neutral for three years. The world temperature looks likely to stabilise at 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, and anything that can be electrified can be: electric cars, steel foundries, electric industries, a massive shift towards synthetic meat production, a renaissance in rail and public transport globally: all have helped reduce humanity's emissions. The electric grid that powers them is a mix of renewable energy, nuclear power and, more recently, nuclear fusion. Even sectors like aviation and shipping have decarbonised, by embracing hydrogen power, which makes up 50% of aircraft and 70% of global cargo ships.

Which is all great for humanity, but despite just cooperating to avert a global climate crisis humanity is going to do what humans do: shoot each other. My question is, where most likely would these conflicts take place in a future with a best-case climate scenario and massive decarbonisation? Which regions would rise to global prominence? Which areas would fall behind and collapse in instability? In particular, which of these changes would be most surprising?

I know that lithium will be very valuable in this future, which would naturally gravitate towards lithium deposits and especially Bolivia and Chile. I also suspect that the Middle East would somehow become even more politically unstable as demand for oil collapses to only being used in the production of chemicals and plastics (though this would most likely decrease too). But which other regions would have their global importance suddenly shift?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I do not think we can answer. There's too many variables. Maybe the Middle East saw it coming and changed, putting heavily in research and manufacturing, possibly with aid. Now having the largest AI controlled cheap manufacturing of both chips, advanced whole buioding 3D printing and thanks to the amount of sun exporting much of it's power it might be stable. Most of the western world might've collapsed in political upheaval, polarisation and hate, closing themselves off and falling into ruin. How can we tell? These things are too hard to see. $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    Jun 26 at 7:58
  • $\begingroup$ Okay, title isnt great, but q by itself - after energy what is the next good thing to figth for and where to bring freedome - okay that makes sense. Political influence, regional control is probably the next good thing. So games of superpowers all around the world. Lithium won't be, there are silicon based solutions. And with abundance of energy, and with lavish fusion it guaranteed - recycling can take off for real so resources pressure may be sifnificantly lifted, and ppl do not like to die if not required - soo good case internet wars, eh? Orange rev's. It hard to tell and be reasonable. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Jun 26 at 9:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Trioxidane It is reasonable to assume that the world is peaceful and politically more or less stable since they managed to successfully implement climate change mitigation measures (and it took only 25 years). That would not be possible if most of the western countries collapsed. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Jun 26 at 19:13
  • $\begingroup$ I cannot write a proper answer (my knowledge in this area is simply not enough) but I would look into resources (like lithium you mentioned) and global weather change patterns. Even if the global temperature rise is stopped at 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels it will lead to increased migration unless you come up with some way to supply food and clean water to all regions that no longer grow enough food. Another thing to consider is the migration of diseases (malaria, for example) and possible new pandemic waves. All of these will have geopolitical effects. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Jun 26 at 19:20
  • $\begingroup$ I think conflict is going to happen during the process of decarbonization, not after. $\endgroup$
    – Faito Dayo
    Sep 19 at 21:24

As the comments pointed out, the specifics will be almost impossible to guess. Does a region with a valuable resource become a battleground or a powerhouse? That depends. But some general observations might be possible:

Powerful (industrialized? rich?) nations will be able to buffer the change better than weak nations. If food prices were to double in western Europe, welfare systems could and would be adjusted so that no citizen starves. So if large agricultural regions become infertile and new ones open up (Canada?) the powerful nations can out-bid the poor nations if world trade still exists. The conflict from that are refugee movements and the actions by the rich nations to stop them. So far, so unsurprising.

To make the best case scenario happen, the rich nations will have to subsidize/bribe the poor nations to do their part. It is difficult to explain to people in South America or Africa that they cannot torch their rainforest and plant food if the alternative is starving.

An interesting conflict might be if the very rich nations try to force the moderately rich or newly rich nations to joint this redistribution scheme towards the poor nations in ecologically sensitive areas. What is a fair share for, say, Taiwan to pay? Does that count as "surprising" to you?

And I don't believe that the last fossil-fuel cars and power plants will really be the last. If anything, there will be museum pieces driven by synthetic gasoline (purchased in gallon jugs, not barrels). Will somebody make North Korea stop using coal power and gasoline-powered tanks? Where else will that kind of enforcement war be necessary?

And on that vein, the changes to the international order to make your best case happen might also require taking action against tax havens. The Great Guernsey War? The Battle of Luxembourg? The Second Civil War, California against Delaware, Wyoming, Nevada, and Oregon ...


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