Could our homes and cities be highly efficient and carbon neutral?
The Paris Agreement has sent a signal, but could society do enough to achieve the goals of this landmark climate agreement?
Shell’s latest energy scenario, Sky, shows a technically possible pathway for society to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. It would require a complete re-wiring the world’s economy in just 50 years.
A critical feature of Sky is the need for much greater efficiency in how society uses energy. This is not new. In fact, this has always been a feature of the energy system, simply to meet growing demand. For example, lighting the world with Edison Electric power stations and lightbulbs from 1910 would not be possible, but very efficient modern versions of the same or similar technologies have achieved this. In Sky, efficiency allows continued demand for energy services to be met and limits overall demand growth for energy. This means that sources of energy like solar have a chance to catch up and surpass more traditional energy sources like oil and natural gas.
An area where energy efficiency gains need to happen quickly and where efficiency tends to lag is in our cities, homes, offices and factories; the built environment.
According to Sky, achieving greater efficiency in the built environment would not need a swathe of new technologies. Rather it is about applying best practice when homes are built and encouraging retrofits in older, less efficient dwellings. This is mainly about insulation, windows, doors, and heating and cooling systems. The obstacles to change are related to ownership and the initial cost of the improvements. This could be solved with relatively simple policy implementation, including mandated efficiency standards for home appliances and lights.
Further, cities can set the direction towards net zero emissions and some are already doing just that. At the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco in September 2018, city mayors and officials gathered to showcase the progress they are making. In a report issued in parallel with the event, the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance (CNCA) identified seven game changers such as zero-emission building codes and the addition of ubiquitous electric-vehicle charging infrastructure.
Ultimately, carbon neutral cities must be part of a broader thrust by society to achieve net-zero emissions and deliver on the goals of the Paris Agreement.
Cities can contribute to net-zero emissions but cannot deliver it on their own. Cities are the destinations for a vast array of goods and services that rely completely on fossil fuels today. Aviation, cement, glass, steel and ships are but a few examples. While cities can set standards for many of the supply chains in which they are involved, more pervasive policy instruments such as carbon pricing would likely be more effective and cost efficient over the long term. Such policy development typically sits with national and regional governments, rather than city mayors.
Nevertheless, as the CNCA notes in its report conclusion,
‘Changing the game in cities is how we’re going to get the future we want. . . . We can get there, but only if more cities step up, other levels of government help them, funders provide support, and the public asks for it.’
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?
The Sky scenario illustrates a technically possible, but challenging pathway for society to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.
Discover the Sky scenario through our latest content series, twelve questions addressing key topics found within Sky.
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