Fundamental changes in the way society produces and uses energy are beginning to emerge. Wind and solar can produce more electricity, and electricity is beginning to power our cars and homes. However, a deep look at this energy transition, such as Shell has done for its Sky, scenario, shows that many current uses of fossil fuels – coal, oil and natural gas – are unlikely to find alternatives in the time needed to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. While renewables and nuclear power have the potential to replace most, if not all, of the fossil fuel currently used to produce electricity within the next 50 years, the alternative energy sources to power planes, to smelt iron ore and to manufacture many other products, remain distant.

As carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere it accumulates and creates warming. This means that climate change is linked to the total amount of emissions over time. The instantaneous rate of emissions is perhaps surprisingly less important. The solution to tackling climate change isn’t just to reduce emissions to a level lower than today, but to bring emissions to zero so that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere doesn’t keep increasing. Even at that point, the stock of carbon dioxide may still be greater than the goal to limit it, so removal becomes an important end-game in achieving the Paris Agreement.

In Sky, there is a significant timing gap between the need to stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and society’s collective ability to stop using fossil fuels.

It is possible that society could be using oil, gas and even coal well into the 22nd century. For this reason, the term ‘net-zero emissions’ has emerged, emanating from the Paris climate Agreement, meaning that zero emissions are achieved on a net basis by removing the same amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as is being added. Over the long term, the most suitable removal mechanism for carbon dioxide is to permanently store it underground through carbon capture and storage (CCS). [https://blogs.shell.com/2018/04/11/achieving-the-balance/].

CCS is already a viable and deployable technology. There are 20 major facilities operating around the world and the technologies required are well established in the oil and gas industry. The challenge to develop CCS further and quickly is economic not technological. To support the Paris Agreement CCS requires some form of incentive to encourage investment, such as have benefitted many emerging technologies. Carbon pricing is arguably the simplest approach, but a more focused mechanism to stimulate CCS may be required.

In the Sky scenario, the world in 2070 still makes considerable use of fossil fuels, albeit declining, with various forms of carbon removal becoming a major global industry.

In the decades after 2070, Sky sees more carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere than is added. This acts as a correcting mechanism for emissions now and in the years to 2070, and therefore would deliver on the Paris goal. Further, the existence of a major carbon removal industry in 2100 offers the potential for climate restoration in the 22nd century. Surely something worth thinking about.

Carbon capture and storage, in some form, will be part of the global journey to net-zero emissions. Its deployment today would need to accelerate for success under the Paris Agreement. The CCS industry needs encouragement commensurate with the importance of its future role in the energy system. It is a significant key to the prize we collectively seek.

Read the Sky publication to see how the goals of the Paris Agreement could be met through a combination of technology, government policy and societal actions.

Could society achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement? What do you think? Share your thoughts on social media tagging @Shell and using #ShellScenarios.

This post is part of Shell scenarios ‘could the world achieve Paris’ series.

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Download Sky Scenario

The Sky scenario illustrates a technically possible, but challenging pathway for society to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Shell and the energy transition

Shell scenarios are not the Shell business plan nor a policy proposal. To find out what Shell is doing to thrive through the energy transition click here.

For over two decades Shell scenario thinking has incorporated the issue of climate change. The Sky scenario joins two previous Shell scenarios, Mountains and Oceans that saw rapid decarbonization but fell short of the goals of the Paris Agreement. To achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement, the Sky scenario relies on a complex combination of mutually reinforcing actions by society, markets and governments. It adopts an approach grounded in current economic and policy development mechanisms, but then progressively becomes ‘goal-driven’ to achieve society’s ambition for net-zero emissions by 2070. At Shell, we hope it’s a helpful contribution to one of the world’s toughest challenges. You can explore all three scenarios at www.shell.com/Scenarios

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