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Countdown to zero

Is a fuel-efficient fleet with zero carbon emissions an impossible dream or a plausible future scenario?

Imagine a world where CO2 emissions are net zero. Figures from the European Commission show that right now cars and vans contribute around 15% of the EU’s emissions of CO2, while 6% comes from heavy duty vehicles – and HDV emissions are still rising due to increases in road freight traffic.

Commercial fleet businesses will be aware of the comprehensive legal framework in place to reduce CO2 emissions from new light duty vehicles and the binding emissions targets set for new car and van fleets. But to reach a point where there are zero CO2 emissions requires more than legislation.

In a far-reaching piece of work called the New Lens Scenarios, Shell has considered current socio-political, economic and environmental trends and combined that understanding with research and analysis to project two plausible visions of the future called Mountains and Oceans where by 2100 the Shell scenarios team has concluded that CO2 emissions will be virtually zero.

Shell has used scenario planning for 40 years as a tool to inform its long-term strategic planning, working with a large network of partners spanning government, NGOs, academia and industry. In the team’s latest piece of work, the Mountains scenario predicts a strong role for government and the introduction of firm and far-reaching policy measures. New policies unlock plentiful natural gas resources – making it the largest global energy source by the 2030s – and accelerate carbon capture and storage technology, supporting a cleaner energy system.

Oceans, meanwhile, describes a more prosperous and volatile world. Energy demand surges due to strong economic growth. Power is more widely distributed and governments take longer to agree major decisions. Market forces rather than policies shape the energy system: oil and coal remain part of the energy mix but renewable energy also grows.

“The future is neither completely predictable nor completely random,” says Jeremy Bentham, Vice President Global Business Environment and Head of Shell Scenarios. “The scenarios aim to be thought-provoking yet plausible, highlighting matters already in the foreground and also, crucially, background developments that should be brought to the fore.”

Ultimately, the scenarios give leaders within Shell and outside it the chance to work on tomorrow’s problems today. “Scenarios highlight how the choices made by governments, businesses and individuals in the coming years will have a profound impact on the health and prosperity of the world,” says Jeremy. “Over the next seven years alone, the world’s energy demand, on top of what we use today, could be the equivalent in size to China’s entire energy system. Meanwhile, greenhouse gas emissions are rising.

“The magnitude of these challenges means that we will need to address them intelligently and in union. Success for Shell – and for society more widely – lies in working better, together, on future energy challenges.”

Projected timeline – the future in numbers

The Mountains scenario suggests that by:
The Mountains scenario suggests that by:
2020 Hydrogen vehicles will roll out commercially
Late 2050s World car fleet average (on road) 35 mile/US gal (up 45% from 2010)
2080 Liquid fuels eliminated from passenger road vehicles
2100 World CO2 emissions are net zero
The Oceans scenario suggests that by:
The Oceans scenario suggests that by:
2030 EU car fleet average (on road) 50 mile/US gal (up 45% from 2010)
Mid 2090s World car fleet average (on road) 70 mile/US gal (three times 2010 levels)
2100 World CO2 emissions down to 2 Gt/year