Published 2022-05-11

This post is also available in Swedish

Björn-Ola Linnér: “Fewer geopolitical risks in a fossil-free society”

The Mistra Geopolitics research programme recently visited Brussels for meetings with NATO and representatives of the EU’s green transition. The programme’s research into geopolitics, security, the environment and climate is receiving a great deal of attention. In Brussels, they participated in discussions about security policy, the EU’s Green Deal, agricultural issues and the Arctic.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has put a spotlight on the Mistra Geopolitics research programme. Since it started in 2017, it has studied the links between geopolitics, security and global environmental and climate change. According to Programme Director Björn-Ola Linnér, this involves using knowledge to draw attention to the risks of the old fossil-driven society and investigating which geopolitical challenges are entailed by the changing climate, as well as the opportunities that societal transformation may bring.

Björn-Ola Linnér, Professor at Linköping University and Programme Director for Mistra Geopolitics. Photo: Alexander Åkerberg, Linköping University.

“Our research deals with increasing our ability to be forward-thinking, increasing opportunities to predict crises and the opportunities that can arise in the three transformations we are studying – the ongoing changes in the environment and climate, societal transformation towards sustainable development and growth technologies. The current war and the crisis in the international community and global economy demonstrate the importance of these issues being studied and potential hotspots being identified. We are well equipped to feed in knowledge,” says Linnér.

He comments on how it is well known that a Russian strategy has been to make itself an important player in the geopolitics of the fossil society, via its oil and natural gas exports. He also points out that the Kremlin has a stated strategy of using climate change to further strengthen its key role in the global food supply, particularly as regards wheat and artificial fertiliser.

Nevertheless, work to gain independence from Russian oil and natural gas is contributing to increasing the rate of the EU’s transition away from fossil fuels. Björn-Ola Linnér comments on this green transition in an interview on Swedish radio, but also mentions the risk that nations such as China and India will increase their imports as the price of Russian oil and gas falls, potentially further cementing the fossil society.

“The transition from fossil to renewable power created a less vulnerable geopolitical dynamic than that we see today. Generally, a fossil-free society entails fewer geopolitical risks, even though other countries – such as those with access to rare earths – can gain increased influence.”

Meetings with NATO in Brussels

At the end of April, a delegation of eleven people from Mistra Geopolitics travelled to Brussels. A busy meeting schedule included everyone from the ambassador of the Swedish delegation to NATO, to the cabinet of the Vice-Chair of the European Commission, Frans Timmerman. Linnér established that there is great interest in the research programme.

“Our research programme is unique. I’m not aware of any other programme that works so extensively with these issues. It is important that our analyses and results reach decision-makers and are taken up to the level of the EU.”

The purpose of the visit was to present the programme and create contacts, as well as establish the state of knowledge, and perspectives and needs, so that we can contribute current analyses and shape the programme’s continued research. A great deal of discussion centred on security policy and the EU Green Deal in relation to different countries’ transitions, the ambitions of the Paris Agreement and climate adaptation. Meetings were also held specifically about the Arctic and food provision – two of Mistra Geopolitics’ research themes.

The decision not to cooperate with Russian institutions affects Mistra Geopolitics’ work on the Arctic. Work within the intergovernmental Arctic Council, which is chaired by Russia, has also stalled since the invasion.

“We must be able to deal with two crises”

The UN General Assembly voted to exclude Russia from the Human Rights Council. Photo: UN Photo/Manuel Elías

Linnér raises a warning finger on excluding Russia from all international work on climate and the environment. In a debate piece published in SvD, he and Mistra Geopolitics’ Deputy Programme Director Henrik Carlsen write about the importance of continued international dialogue.

“The environment and climate crisis is not on hold. We must be able to deal with two crises at the same time. It is important that we do not do anything that supports the power of the Kremlin; Russian aggression must be counteracted and boycotts are an important and effective means in many areas. Joint work on the environment and climate, however, contributes to negative consequences for Russia’s fossil economy, upon which the country’s political interests and military power base are built.”

Because of the upcoming UN conference, Stockhom+50, which marks 50 years since the Stockholm Conference, Linnér draws parallels to the meeting in 1972, when the tense situation between the USSR and the USA reached a peak prior to the meeting and the USSR boycotted it. Despite this, the environment, primarily the issue of acidification, was a bridge for continued dialogue between the countries, says Linnér.

He also highlights how it is important to remember that the decisions we make now may lead to conflict in the future, and that we need to start planning for a time after Putin.

“We don’t know when it will be, but it will come, and we need to prepare for this and have ways into Russia.”


Björn-Ola Linnér and the research programme are busy. There is great media interest, an analysis of the trip to Brussels must be produced and dialogues continued. Soon there will be a visit to the French department of the environment about societal transformation linked to geopolitics, and participation at a meeting with the Nordic Council of Ministers.

They have many activities planned during Stockholm+50. The programme has also contributed two background papers to the scientific report that the Stockholm Environment Institute, SEI, and the policy-focused research institute Council of Energy, Environment and Water, CEEW, are launching for the meeting. The autumn includes regional workshops on Fiji, work that has been on hold during the pandemic.

“The Pacific region is also a hot political issue, not least due to China’s advances on the Solomon Islands, with a security pact being drawn up between them,” concludes Björn-Ola Linnér.


Photo: David Brohede, Linköping University