Shell: Get ready for a warmer world

image.1614211676Solar power and natural gas will grow rapidly in the next few decades, if new scenarios from global energy giant Shell prove accurate.

And as the technology to capture carbon from the burning fossil fuels reaches scale, and sources of clean energy grow, net carbon emissions could drop to zero by 2100.

Even so, it will be hard, if not impossible, to meet the goal set by the world’s governments of holding the average increase in global temperatures to 2 degrees centigrade.

6280287836_2ccdb72913_mToday in Washington, Royal Dutch Shell’s chief executive, Peter Voser, and Jeremy Bentham, the head of Shell’s scenarios team, unveiled a pair of “New Lens” scenarios, dubbed “oceans” and “mountains,” and available in much greater detail here. In essence (and it’s more complicated this), the “mountains” scenario envisions a strong role for government and coordinated global policy, while the “oceans” scenario sees dispersed power, greater volatility, a stronger role for markets and rapid economic growth. Shell has been generating scenarios for about 40 years, to help guide the company’s long-term planning as well as influence policy makers.

Underlying both scenarios, though, are assumptions about the world’s increasing population and economic growth that together will drive demand for energy by about 80% by 2050. That rising demand is all but unavoidable, Bentham said, even assuming strong policies to promote efficiency or high energy prices that discourage consumption.

Meeting that demand for energy, while reducing carbon emissions dramatically, will be extremely difficult, to say the least, the Shell executives said.

“At current trends,” Voser said, greenhouse gas emissions “will far exceed what is widely to believed the upper limits for climate change.”

Shell’s two scenarios generate different energy mixes for the future. The policy-driven “mountains” analysis leads to a shift from oil and coal, which are the world’s biggest energy sources today, to natural gas. The company says:

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.

The more chaotic “oceans” scenario has less regulation, higher cumulative emissions and higher energy prices. The company says:

Market forces rather than policies shape the energy system: oil and coal remain part of the energy mix but renewable energy also grows. By the 2060s solar becomes the world’s largest energy source.

But Bentham said that “neither scenario is able to meet the 2 degree” target agreed to during UN climate negotiations by the world’s governments, including the US. “That’s one of the troubling features in the work,” he said.

The report says, in a section called “Reflections on development and sustainability”:

One conclusion that can be drawn from the New Lens Scenarios is that substantive change will not come about by itself — as a result of pricing signals or policy responses delayed until crises become apparent. A positive outcome requires a series of proactive, far-sighted and co-ordinated national and international policy developments that, to date, seem beyond the bounds of plausibility.

Then again, as Yogi Berra may or may not have said: Predictions are hard, especially about the future. Shell didn’t see the global financial crisis coming in its last scenario, and either political organizing or technology breakthroughs could affect the climate-change equation, in unforeseeable ways.

So what is Shell doing about all this? The company has invested in biofuels and advocated strongly for technology to capture and store CO2 emitted from power plants. In the policy arena, unlike other fossil-fuel giants, Shell supports greenhouse gas regulation. The company says: “Government action is needed and we support an international framework that puts a price on CO2, encouraging the use of all CO2-reducing technologies.”

Said Bentham: “It’s not a question of clean fossil fuels or green renewables. It’s clean and green.”

Below is a chart on projected GHG emissions under various scenarios, and another on the energy mix under the “oceans’ scenario showing the growth of solar. You can click on either chart to enlarge it.

Disclosure: In 2011 and 2012, I was paid by Shell to moderate company events on environment issues.

Graph 20_Global Energy Related CO2 Emissions_CMYK


Graph 6 Total Primary Energy by source Oceans_CMYK


  1. Ed Reid says

    Limiting the global average surface temperature anomaly to 2C is not a goal; rather, it is a wish. There is no plan to remain within that wished for limit; and, no timeline for realizing the wish. Actually, a specific increase in the temperature anomaly could not be a goal, because it would be virtually impossible to control to it.

    I believe Shell is correct in analyzing the issue of CO2 emissions as a “stock problem”. However, Shell’s assessment of our current situation is based on the outputs of the suite of climate models currently considered by IPCC, including the potential future temperature change projected to be already “baked in” as the result of emissions which have already occurred.

    It should be obvious now that the outputs of this suite of models is flawed, in that there are things occurring in the real, measurable world which are not contemplated by the models. One example is the fact that there has been no change in the global average surface temperature anomaly in the past 16 years; and, no statistically significant change in 20+ years, on average. A second example is the fact that the global average surface temperature anomaly (adjusted temperature, not data) is below the lower confidence bound of the suite of models used by the IPCC. Recent papers suggest that as much as half of the reported anomaly exists solely in the adjustments, not in the underlying data. That situation is atrocious!

    The estimate of the incremental temperature change already “baked in” for the future is based on this suite of models and the sensitivities and feedbacks which drive their outputs. However, it is now obvious that the models don’t accurately model the real world. Rather, the measurable real world would suggest that the 2C “goal” (wish) is only about 25% full; and, that we might be on our merry way to 2C rather than 4C. I understand that it can be argued that it takes time for the climate to equilibrate, but that would also include equilibration to the evolving solar conditions as well.

    I have been waiting for someone, anyone, to enunciate a unique, broadly accepted goal for a program to “dodge” the CAGW “bullet”. If Shell is correct, that goal would have to be to reduce global annual CO2 emissions to zero with all deliberate speed, by some combination of zero emissions technologies and CCS. Shell is absolutely correct that efficiency improvements, increased vehicle fuel economy, hybrid vehicles, natural gas for power generation, etc. are not on the path to such a goal.

    I believe it is long past time for the climate science community to give up its pretentions. It is not the modern day, real world Rumpelstiltskin. It cannot weave straw (bad data) into gold (good data); and, it certainly cannot weave nothing (missing data) into gold (good data). We have collectively spent well more than $100 billion analyzing data that aren’t and building models that don’t. We do not know what the ideal global average surface temperature is. We don’t even know what the global average surface temperature is now. We certainly don’t know what the global average surface temperature will be in 100 years.

    “Don’t begin vast programs with half-vast ideas.”

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