Several major oil companies, including BP and Shell, periodically publish scenarios forecasting the future of the energy sector. In recent years, they have added visions for how climate change could be tackled, including scenarios they say are in line with the international Paris climate agreement.
These scenarios are extremely influential. They are used by companies making investment decisions and, more importantly, by decision makers as the basis for their decisions.
But are they really compatible with the Paris Agreement?
Many future scenarios show continued reliance on fossil fuels. But data gaps and lack of transparency can make it difficult to compare them with independent scientific assessments, such as global reviews. by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
In a study published on August 16, 2022 in Nature Communication, our international team has analyzed four of these scenarios and two others by the International Energy Agency using a new method we have developed to compare these energy scenarios head-to-head. We determined that five of them, including the frequently cited scenarios of BP, Shell, and Equine— were not in line with the Paris objectives.
What the Paris Agreement expects
One is to ensure that the increase in global average temperature remains well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, and to continue efforts to keep warming in check. below 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). The agreement also stipulates that global emissions should peak as soon as possible and reach at least net zero greenhouse gas emissions in the second half of the century. Trajectories that meet these targets show that carbon dioxide emissions are projected to fall even faster, reaching net zero by around 2050.
Scientific evidence shows that a warming of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, even temporarily, would have harmful effects implications for the global climate. These consequences are not necessarily reversible, and it is unclear to what extent people, ecosystems and economies might know how to adapt.
How Scenarios Work
We worked with the non-profit science and policy research institute Climate analysis better understand the implications of the Paris Agreement for global and national decarbonization pathways — pathways countries can take to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. In particular, we explored the roles that coal and natural gas can play as the world moves away from fossil fuels.
When we analyzed the decarbonization scenarios of energy companies, we found that BP, Shell, and EquineThe scenarios exceed the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 degree Celsius limit by a significant margin, with only BPhas more than a 50% chance of subsequently lowering temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2100.
These scenarios also showed higher short-term coal use and long-term gas use for power generation than Paris-compatible scenarios, such as those assessed by the IPCC. Overall, the utility scenarios also show higher levels of carbon dioxide emissions than the scenarios compatible with Paris.
Of the six scenarios, we determined that only the International Energy Agency program Net zero by 2050 scenario outlines an energy future compatible with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 degree Celsius target.
We found that this scenario has more than a 33% chance of preventing warming from exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius, a 50% chance of having temperatures 1.5 degrees Celsius warmer or lower in 2100 and close to 90% chance of keeping warming always below 2 degrees. Celsius. This matches the criteria we use to assess Consistency of the Paris Agreementand in line with the approach adopted by the IPCC Special file: Global warming of 1.5°Cwhich highlights lanes with no overshoot or with limited overshoot to be compatible with 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Getting the right picture of decarbonization
When a group publishes future energy scenarios, it helps to have a transparent way to make an apples-to-apples comparison and assess the temperature implications. Most corporate scenarios, with the exception of Shell’s Sky 1.5 scenario, do not extend beyond mid-century and focus on carbon dioxide without assessing other greenhouse gases.
Our method uses a transparent procedure to extend each trajectory to 2100 and estimate emissions of other gases, allowing us to calculate temperature results for these scenarios using simple climate models.
Without a consistent baseline, there is a risk that policymakers and businesses will have an inaccurate picture of the pathways available to decarbonize economies.