Could the 1.5°C stretch goal of the Paris Agreement be met?
The Paris Agreement has sent a signal, but could society do enough to achieve the goals of this landmark climate agreement?
The efforts of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Paris Agreement have brought a sharp focus on the climate goal to keep the temperate increase below 2°C, but the wording set out in Paris goes further than this.
Article 2 instructs the signatory Parties, a.k.a. governments, ‘to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change’.
Shell’s Sky scenario shows a technically possible pathway for a rapid energy transition, including an end to deforestation, that results in a balance of net-zero emissions by 2070. The Shell scenario team worked with climate modelers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to assess the impacts of Sky’s rapid transition and found that average surface temperature warming is limited to less than 2°C (with an 85% probability).
This meets the principal goal agreed in the Paris Agreement, but can more be done to limit temperature increase?
Sky lays out an extraordinarily rapid transition, one that sees significant change even in the short term. For example, the scenario requires that at least half of all new passenger vehicle sales globally are electric by 2030, yet today they stand at around one percent. In all regards, Sky represents the fastest possible energy transition that the Shell scenario team could plausibly imagine today.
Stretching the goal to 1.5°C isn’t simply about speeding up. Rather, something else must happen and society needs to find another lever to pull on a global scale.
The key to achieving 1.5°C is developing further capacity to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as the energy system transition proceeds. This is because the rate of reduction of carbon emissions is already maximized in the Sky scenario, so faster removal of carbon dioxide becomes the only option.
The capacity to do that exists, in all parts of the world, through reforestation.
The Shell scenario team worked with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) on this problem and again with MIT on the associated climate modeling. We used the recently developed TNC database of land use change options, which includes reforestation opportunities and other such programs, all mapped out against current global land use. Of these, reforestation offers by far the largest carbon sink. With this knowledge, we developed an addition to Sky that sees an area approaching the size of Brazil, or about 700 million hectares, being reforested over the coming decades.
This would utilize all the global reforestation options presented by TNC and provides an additional carbon sink of some 10Gt per year by 2070. Importantly, it also remains compatible with the other land use demands emerging from Sky, such as for biofuels and bio-energy with carbon capture and storage.
If social barriers can be overcome, such as the impact on agricultural communities, so-called “nature-based solutions” (NBS), such as reforestation, can help to limit peak warming because their scale-up can be considerably faster than the comparable transformation of energy technologies.
The 1.5°C goal is not out of reach, but it means that global forest cover must be rapidly expanding by the early 2030s, rather than continuing in a state of contraction.
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 using #ShellScenarios
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