Paris ratification maths

The joint announcement by the US and China that they would ratify the Paris Agreement and the more recent announcement by Brazil has raised the prospect that the agreement could enter into force sooner rather than later. Could it even happen prior to COP22 in Morocco or at least by the end of 2016? Certainly the G20 gave entry into force a boost when they included this in their Communique earlier this month.

We reiterate our commitment to sustainable development and strong and effective support and actions to address climate change. We commit to complete our respective domestic procedures in order to join the Paris Agreement as soon as our national procedures allow. We welcome those G20 members who joined the Agreement and efforts to enable the Paris Agreement to enter into force by the end of 2016 and look forward to its timely implementation with all its aspects.

Paragraph 1 of Article 21 of the Agreement specifies the requirements for entry into force as follows;

This Agreement shall enter into force on the thirtieth day after the date on which at least 55 Parties to the Convention accounting in total for at least an estimated 55 percent of the total global greenhouse gas emissions have deposited their instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession.

The UNFCCC is running a tracker page and the exact status by country can be found on the UN Treaties site.


The combined emissions of China and the United States account for most of the 39% shown in the tracker picture above (mid-September). But of course they are only two parties, whereas 27 have ratified so far. Many of these are small island states, such as Barbados and the Cook Islands, some of which may be challenged in the near term by rising sea levels. So what might be a potential pathway to 55 / 55?

In terms of the number of parties, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) which consists of 44 members can get us most of the way there. With AOSIS and the 12 other non-AOSIS parties that had ratified by mid-September, the 55 Party threshold is surpassed. So it would appear that entry into force on this basis is achievable as other countries will doubtless come forward as well.

But 55% of global emissions may be a bit more difficult. The 40 AOSIS countries are all low emissions, so even their combined impact will be below 1% of global emissions. Starting with the USA, China and Brazil, the bar moves above 40% and with AOSIS, Norway, Peru and others who had ratified by mid-September it will approach 42%.

The 55 country and 55% line could easily be crossed with ratification by the other major emitter, the EU, but the parliamentary process in Brussels would  normally push this into 2017. However, the political push behind the Paris Agreement can hardly be described as normal. At an EU leader summit last week, there was a strong indication given that EU ratification could happen in as little as three weeks.

If the EU fast track doesn’t happen, 13% of global emissions have to come from somewhere else. Some combinations of major emitters that could deliver this are as follows;

  1. Australia, Japan, South Korea, South Africa, Thailand, Vietnam and Venezuela gets to about 10%.
  2. Russia and India are at least 5% each.
  3. Canada, Australia, Japan, Ukraine, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan also combine to about 10%
  4. Taiwan, Turkey, Algeria, Argentina, Egypt, Pakistan, Nigeria, Malaysia, Kuwait, Iran and Indonesia combines to about 10%.

Russia and India are clearly important, as was Russia with the Kyoto Protocol. But their early ratification isn’t essential. The other lists above clearly show that there are sufficient 0.6-3% countries to get this over the line. The first list, combined with Iran and Indonesia is but one example.

Given progress to date, a concerted push by AOSIS and perhaps the likes of the Umbrella Group (a UNFCCC collection of countries including USA, Australia, Japan and Canada amongst others), entry into force of the Paris Agreement is quite feasible in the nearer term. With the EU on board it is almost certain.

As COP 22 approaches and negotiators face the task of implementing the Paris Agreement, they will be required to interpret, expand on and operationalize the various Articles of the Paris text. One such piece is Article 6, which offers a framework that can support the establishment of a global carbon market. But the rules of that market may be very different to ones that have preceded it.

The design of the Kyoto Protocol resulted in a particular emissions accounting architecture that is a mixture of allowance allocation against a cap, combined with a provision for project based credits originating outside the cap (supplied by developing countries in the case of the Kyoto Protocol, i.e. non-Annex 1). These credits effectively raise the cap when they are imported into a covered system such as the EU ETS.  Within the Kyoto Protocol, allowance allocation was handled through the Assigned Amount Unit against targets agreed by developed countries (Annex 1) and the most widespread crediting or offset system is the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) which operates on a project by project basis in developing countries. This basic design has been translated into many jurisdictions, including locations such as California which is not covered by the Kyoto Protocol.

A feature of these systems is that the accounting normally handles the entities within the cap and the project outside the cap, but no attempt is made to account for the total greenhouse gas impact on the atmosphere or against a global goal to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions. There is an implicit assumption that the sum of the various parts adds up such that the overall outcome is better than not having conducted the exercise at all. This happens because only a small percentage of the global economy sits under a cap, so there is no mechanism available to account for the total impact.  This is one reason why some Parties challenged the appropriateness of the Kyoto Protocol itself.

A further issue related to the current structure is the macro accounting of the external credit. Projects vary in type, ranging from clearly measurable emission reductions (e.g. capturing land-fill methane) to notional reductions (e.g. a wind turbine is built, but the alternative might have been more coal). Particularly in the case of the latter example which is an energy mix question, there is normally no resolution between the local project and the overall energy mix direction of the host country. A key question is typically left unanswered; if the import of credits into a cap-and-trade system raises the cap, has there been an equivalent, albeit probably notional, decline elsewhere.

But as the Paris Agreement starts to take hold, this will likely change. The Durban Platform, established at COP17 to create a global climate agreement applicable to all to replace the Kyotol Protocol, was designed to address these issues.

The Paris Agreement is built on the concept of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC). These are set at national level and offer a direction of travel for a given economy in terms of its energy mix and/or greenhouse gas emissions. Although the first set of NDCs offered in the run-up to COP21 were varied in nature and in some cases only covered specific activities within the economy, over time they will likely converge in style and, for the Paris Agreement to deliver, must expand to cover all anthropogenic greenhouse gas sources.

The NDCs also lead us down another path – that of quantification. The first assessment of NDCs conducted by the UNFCCC in October 2015 and then refreshed in May 2016 required the quantification of all NDCs in terms of annual emissions and cumulative emissions through to 2030. This was necessary to establish an equivalent level of warming of the climate system, which is driven largely by the cumulative emissions of carbon dioxide over time. Without such an assessment, the UN cannot advise the Parties on progress towards the aim of the Paris Agreement.

The UNFCCC didn’t have a full emissions inventory on which to base this calculation, so they established one from the best data available. But Article 13 of the Paris Agreement introduces a transparency framework and calls on Parties to regularly provide;

  • A national inventory report of anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases, prepared using good practice methodologies accepted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and agreed upon by the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement;       
  • Information necessary to track progress made in implementing and achieving its nationally determined contribution under Article 4.

The foundation for transparency is measurement and reporting, which further implies that emissions quantification is a foundation element of the Paris Agreement. Although nationally determined and always voluntary, the Agreement effectively establishes a cap, albeit notional in many cases, on national emissions in every country. The caps are also effectively declining over time, even for countries with emissions still rising as development drives industrialization.

Article 6 introduces the prospect of carbon unit trading through its internationally transferred mitigation outcomes (ITMO) and emissions mitigation mechanism (EMM). Text in paragraphs 6.2 and 6.5 is included to avoid any possibility of double counting;

. . . internationally transferred mitigation outcomes towards nationally determined contributions. . . . . shall apply robust accounting to ensure, inter alia, the avoidance of double counting,

Emission reductions resulting from the mechanism referred to in paragraph 4 of this Article shall not be used to demonstrate achievement of the host Party’s nationally determined contribution if used by another Party to demonstrate achievement of its nationally determined contribution.

These provisions, in combination with the progressive shift towards quantification of all emission sinks and sources, means that full national accounting for offset crediting must take place for both the recipient and the source of the units. For the recipient, there will be no change in their procedures in that the introduction and counting of outside units is already built in to the inventory processes underpinning the trading systems. But the source country will be required to make an equivalent reduction (also referred to as a “corresponding adjustment”) from their stated NDC, therefore tightening their contribution. This was a feature of the Joint Implementation (JI) mechanism under the Kyoto Protocol, but was not the required practice in the CDM.

The example shown in the box below illustrates this through a hypothetical case for a nature based transfer (NBT) from Kenya to Canada, utilizing the EMM as a means to acquire the necessary funding. The impact on the Kenya NDC implies a shift from a stated reduction of 30% from Business as Usual (BAU) in 2030, to some 37% below BAU. This ensures there is no double counting of the transferred amount and maintains the full integrity of the overall NDC approach such that the implied global cumulative emissions goal of the NDCs is maintained. However, Kenya will need to find further reductions in its economy as a result. One implication of this is that the price of carbon units may rise due to the additional demand that an overall emissions cap, even a notional one, places on the global economy.

Article 6 of the Paris Agreement offers great potential for carbon market development and emissions trading, therefore driving a lowest cost mitigation outcome and directing funding and financing to low emission technologies. But over time, it should also introduce an accounting rigor that has only featured in some quarters to date. This may well change the supply demand balance, leading to a more robust and enduring carbon market.

Kenya and Canada

Shell is often cited in climate change discussions, sometimes disparagingly simply because it is an oil and gas company, but increasingly as a company that has recognised that major changes in both the provision and use of energy across the globe will be needed to both meet demand and significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Following from the Paris Agreement, it is hard to see how this won’t be the case. The leadership in Shell regarding climate change has always come from the top. The first major steps were taken in the period 1997 to 2001 when the foundations for change were established by former Chairman Sir Mark Moody-Stuart. He catalysed the necessary focus on the climate issue and had the foresight to establish a carbon trading desk within Shell Trading, just as the Clean Development Mechanism and the EU Emissions Trading system were in their early design stages. In 2005, then CEO Jeroen van der Veer created our CO2 team and gave it high visibility within the company. This eventually led to developments such as the Quest carbon capture and storage project in Canada. Today, we have a new energies business starting up. Our current CEO Ben van Beurden has also championed our position on issues such as government implemented carbon pricing and Shell has recently published scenario thinking on a net-zero emissions energy system of the future.

Within this journey of change, one question I am often asked is how I came into my job in Shell as Chief Climate Change Adviser and what it is like to perform such a role in the oil and gas industry. Some think that I might be a climate scientist, others picture the role as something of a fig leaf. In reality, neither is the case.

I started in Shell like many others, as a chemical engineering graduate in one of the 30+ refineries that Shell had back in 1980. The year in which I interviewed was one where all new chemical engineers were spoilt for choice – graduating classes had shrunk and demand was booming. But Shell offered a great value proposition – a global company with the very real prospect of a global career. My job offer was as a technologist in Geelong Refinery, a ~100,000 bbl/day facility just outside the city of Geelong, Australia and some 70 kms south-west of Melbourne. It was a complex refinery, with reforming, cracking, lube oil manufacturing, chemicals and various hydrotreating units. In the subsequent decade in the Downstream business I also worked in the global offices in The Hague and at Clyde Refinery in Sydney. Towards the end of this time I moved into the supply side of refining where the crude oil purchasing and refinery operating mode decisions are made based in part on linear programme models of the operation and the market it faces. This in turn led me to Shell Trading in London where I spent a decade trading Middle East crudes and managing the chartering of all the crude oil shipping that Shell required. Trading and shipping are at the very core of Shell, not just in terms of its operation as an oil and gas company, but in its DNA as well. After all, only a few hundred metres from where I live today, Marcus Samuel started his own trading business by procuring shells from sailors in the Port of London and making trinkets for people to buy when they visited English seaside towns such as Brighton and Torquay. This tiny enterprise, along with a similar entrepreneurial company in the Netherlands, eventually became the Royal Dutch Shell plc of today.

So twenty years after graduating I found myself with a solid background in what the company did, how the economics of the industry worked and perhaps most importantly how a critical component of the global energy system actually operated. What should I do with this expertise? I had my eye on the various functions in the Corporate Centre of the company and one in particular came up in mid-2001 which looked interesting. It was the role of Group Climate Change Adviser, a relatively new position that Shell had created in 1998 as it took its first steps to manage the business risk presented by climate change. In my interview for the position, my soon to be boss was pleased to meet someone who had worked in the refining business and had a good knowledge of the energy markets and trading. Even then it was clear that the development of policy would involve markets, and pricing, and present a real challenge to the incumbent businesses.

Like most in the company, I had imagined that this would be another 3-4 year assignment, but 16 years later I remain immersed in the climate change issue at Shell, although the role I originally took and the one I have now are worlds apart. Much has happened in that time externally, culminating in the Paris Agreement last December; internally the journey for the company has similarly progressed, although not without some tough questions along the way. Being part of all this over such a long period has been rewarding, a huge privilege and very challenging. It perhaps isn’t where I expected my career to go, but I can only look back and say that I am glad that it did. Some may think that a large corporation means a very restrictive and bureaucracy bound office life, but this is far from reality. I have a broad mandate and considerable freedom to engage externally on climate change, to publish my thinking on the issues that the world faces as it strives to manage emissions, but also to take all this back to colleagues within the company and challenge them as they try to run their businesses. Over time, I have also had considerable opportunity for travel, which has included every continent (yes, Antarctica as well) and over 30 countries.

Glacier calving

From time to time, people considering a career in environmental management ask me where they should start and what steps they might take. I almost never recommend that they start in an environmental role. Rather, building real experience developing new projects, troubleshooting problems in existing facilities and understanding the economics of the energy industry is my steer. My own experience has led me to believe that such a grounding is essential in tackling major issues such as climate change. As a new graduate considering an energy career, these are the sorts of jobs that a company such as Shell will most likely offer. My advice would be to take one, and then look towards the longer journey of change.

Solar deployment rates

There is no doubt that solar PV is deploying rapidly, with 50+ gigawatts of capacity now being added each year to the global energy system. A recent article in the Financial Times discusses the “Great Resource Shift” as it calls the visible energy transition and notes the following for solar in particular;

The amount of solar power installed over the past few years, for example, has exceeded experts’ optimistic predictions . . . . . “It’s a lesson in disruption, in that things can happen very quickly . . . . . And it’s quite difficult to build into most traditional forecasting. We’re now in a situation where the cleaner, alternative technologies are actually comparable or in some cases cheaper than the incumbent technologies so that’s a dramatic change from a few years ago.”

It is certainly the case that when returning to the IEA World Energy Outlook published in 2006, current solar deployment far exceeds their forecast. In that year, IEA expected 2015 solar to generate some 34 TWhrs of electricity, rising to 238 TWh by 2030. A look at the most recent version of the BP Statistical Review of World Energy shows solar in 2015 at 253 TWh against a global total of 24,100 TWh, i.e. 1%. While this remains low, it is nevertheless nearly an order of magnitude larger that the IEA number for 2015, even though IEA were close with their 2015 total electricity forecast (23,682 vs. 24,098 from BP). The difference in wind generation was only a factor of two, with IEA expecting 449 TWh and the BP 2015 actual coming in at 841 TWh.

IEA WEO 2006 APS Electricity

But not all outlooks took the same view. Back in 2006 Shell was preparing data for the formulation of its previous round of energy scenarios, Blueprints and Scramble. These were released in 2008, but the data is from the same period as the 2006 IEA World Energy Outlook. The Blueprints scenario imagined very rapid deployment of solar, resulting in some 500 TWh in 2015, about double the BP number. Based on current growth rates in solar (~30% per annum but declining in relative terms as the base gats larger) the world may be at this level by 2018.

This rapid deployment has given rise to great optimism regarding the future of solar, yet a deeper look at Blueprints and more recently the solar based Shell scenario Oceans, shows a familiar pattern. In the early years of deployment the relative rate of change is often extraordinarily high, but as the energy source becomes material within the mix this slows, even as absolute deployment rates are maintained. Exponential growth doesn’t continue. Looking back at Blueprints and an article on energy system growth that was published in Nature and written by two members of the Shell Scenario team, we see a potential route forward for solar. The chart below was prepared for that Nature article, but overlaid is the observed growth in solar from 2007 to 2015.

Blueprints solar

A key observation from the chart is that growth becomes more linear as the given energy source becomes a material part of the energy system. By 2050 in the Blueprints scenario solar is around 74 EJ, or nearly 10% of primary energy. By 2100 in the Oceans scenario this has risen to nearly 300 EJ, or about 30% of primary energy. 300 EJ is about 80,000 TWh, which means a 300 fold increase on current solar generation or the equivalent of solar producing over three times the current global electricity consumption. But this takes another 84 years to materialize.

One interesting observation looking back at IEA WEO 2006 is that global emissions of carbon dioxide were forecast at 31.6 billion tonnes in 2015, which is very close to the current data (BP at 33.5 Gt, IEA at 32.1 announced in March). As noted above, total 2015 electricity generation was about 400 TWh above the 2006 IEA projection, with IEA falling short on wind and solar by 611 TWh. One worrying conclusion from this is that while the rapid expansion of wind and solar has certainly added to global electricity production and likely helped many people gain access to electricity before they might have without it, the deployment hasn’t impacted CO2 emissions. This supports the argument that CO2 emissions will really only be impacted through the introduction of government led carbon pricing and not by simply trying to outcompete fossil fuel use with rapid deployment of something else. The latter strategy might result in an energy system that has significant solar and wind, but without significant curtailment of emissions.



Scenarios are part of an ongoing process used in Shell for more than 40 years to challenge executives’ perspectives on the future business environment. They are based on plausible assumptions and quantification and are designed to stretch management thinking and even to consider events that may only be remotely possible.



An infographic published earlier this year asks the question “Could the world be 100% solar?”. The question is answered in the affirmative by demonstrating that so much solar energy falls on the Earth’s surface, all energy needs could be met by covering just 500,000 km2 with solar PV. This represents an area a bit larger than Thailand, but still only ~0.3% of the total land surface of the planet. Given the space available in deserts in particular and the experience with solar PV in desert regions in places such as California and Nevada, the infographic argues that there are no specific hurdles to such an endeavour.


However, solar PV is both intermittent and only delivers electricity, which currently makes up just 20% of final energy use. Oil products make up the bulk of the remaining 80%. As I noted in a recent post, even in the Shell net-zero emissions scenario, electricity still makes up only 50% of final energy. In that case, what might a 100% solar world really look like and is it actually feasible beyond the simple numerical assessment?

The first task is of course to generate sufficient electricity, not just in terms of total gigawatt hours, but in gigawatt hours when and where it is needed. As solar is without question intermittent in a given location, this means building a global grid capable of distribution to the extent that any location can be supplied with sufficient electricity from a location that is in daylight at that time. In addition, the same system would likely need access to significant electricity storage, certainly on a scale that far eclipses even the largest pumped water storage currently available. Energy storage technologies such as batteries and molten salt (well suited to concentrated solar thermal) only operate on a very small scale today.

The Chinese State Grid has been busy building ultra-high voltage long distance transmission lines across China and they have imagined a world linked by a global grid (Wall Street Journal, March 30 2016 and Bloomberg, April 3rd 2016) with a significant proportion of electricity needs generated by solar from the equator and wind from the Arctic.


But could this idea be expanded to a grid which supplies all the electricity needs of the world? A practical problem here is that for periods of the day at certain times of the year the entire North and South American continents are in complete darkness, which means that the grid connection would have to extend across the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans. While the cost of a solar PV cell may be pennies in this world, the cost of deploying electricity from solar as a global 24/7 energy service could be considerable. The cost of the cells themselves may not even feature.


But as noted above, electricity only gets you part of the way there, albeit a substantial part. Different forms of energy will be needed for a variety of processes and services which are unlikely to run on direct or stored electricity, even by the end of this century. Examples are;

  • Shipping currently runs on hydrocarbon fuels, although large military vessels have their own nuclear reactors.
  • Aviation requires kerosene, with stored electricity a very unlikely alternative. The fuel to weight ratio of electro-chemical (battery) storage, even given advances in battery technology, makes this a distant option. Although a small electric plane for one person for 30 minutes flight has been tested, extending this to an A380 flying for 14 hours would require battery technology that doesn’t currently exist. Still, some short haul commuter aircraft might become electric.
  • While electricity may be suitable for many modes of road transport, it may not be practical for heavy goods transport and large scale construction equipment. Much will depend on the pace and scope of battery development.
  • Heavy industry requires considerable energy input, such as from furnaces powered by coal and natural gas. These reach the very high temperatures necessary for processes such as chemical conversion, making glass, converting limestone to cement and refining ores to metals. Economy of scale is also critical, so delivering very large amounts of energy into a relatively small space is important. In the case of the metallurgical industries, carbon (usually from coal) is also needed as a reducing agent to convert the ore to a refined metal. Electrification will not be a solution in all cases.

All the above argues for another energy delivery mechanism, potentially helping with (or even solving) the storage issue, offering high temperatures for industrial processes and the necessary energy density for transport. The best candidate appears to be hydrogen, which could be made by electrolysis of water in our solar world (although today it is made much more efficiently from natural gas and the resulting carbon dioxide can be geologically stored – a end-to-end process currently in service for Shell in Canada). Hydrogen can be transported by pipeline over long distances, stored for a period and combusted directly. Hydrogen could also feature within the domestic utility system, replacing natural gas in pipelines (where suitable) and being used for heating in particular. This may be a more cost effective route than building sufficient generating capacity to heat homes with electricity on the coldest winter days. It is even possible to use hydrogen as the reducing agent in metallurgical processes instead of carbon, although the process to do so still only exists at laboratory scale.

But the scale of a global hydrogen industry to support the solar world would far exceed the global Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) we have today. That industry includes around 300 million tonnes per annum of liquefaction capacity and some 400 LNG tankers. That amounts to about 15 EJ of final energy compared to the current global primary energy demand of 500 EJ. In a 1000 EJ world that we might see in 2100, a role for hydrogen as an energy carrier that reached 100 EJ would imply an industry that was seven times the size of the current LNG system. But hydrogen has 2-3 times the energy content of natural gas and liquid hydrogen is one sixth the density of LNG (important for ships), so a very different looking industry would emerge. Nevertheless, the scale would be substantial.

Finally, but importantly, there are the things that we use, from plastic water bottles to the Tesla Model S. Everything has carbon somewhere in the supply chain or in the product itself. There is simply no escaping this. The source of carbon in plastics, in the components in a Tesla and in the carbon fibre panels in a Boeing 787 is crude oil (and sometimes natural gas). So our infinite solar world needs a source of carbon and on a very large scale. This could still come from crude oil, but if one objective of the solar world is to contain that genie, then an alternative would be required. Biomass is one and a bioplastics industry already exists. In 2015 it was 1-2 million tonnes per annum, compared to ~350 million tonnes for the traditional plastics industry.

Another source of carbon could be carbon dioxide removed directly from the atmosphere or sourced from industries such as cement manufacture. This could be combined with hydrogen and lots of energy to make synthesis gas (CO +H2), which can be a precursor for the chemical industry or an ongoing liquid fuels industry for sectors such as aviation. Synthesis gas is manufactured today on a large scale from natural gas in Qatar and then converted to liquid fuels in the Shell Pearl Gas to Liquids facility. Atmospheric extraction of carbon dioxide is feasible, but remains as a pilot technology today, although some companies are looking at developing it further.

The solar world may be feasible as this century progresses, but it is far from the simple solution that it is often portrayed as. Vast new industries would need to emerge to support it and each of these would take time to develop. The LNG industry first started in the early 1960s and is now a major part of the global economy, but still only carries a small fraction of global energy needs.

The new Shell publication, A Better Life with a Health Planet: Pathways to Net Zero Emissions, shows that in 2100 solar could be a 300 EJ technology, compared to 2.5 EJ energy source today. This is in a world with primary energy demand of 1000 EJ.


Scenarios are part of and ongoing process used in Shell for more than 40 years to challenge executives’ perspectives on the future business environment. They are based on plausible assumptions and quantification and are designed to stretch management thinking and even to consider events that may only be remotely possible.

Debating the global temperature goal

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Within the Decision Text supporting the Paris Agreement, paragraph II.21 calls on the IPCC as follows;

21. Invites the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to provide a special report in 2018 on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways;

This has prompted a number of academic institutions and climate scientists to start publishing on the issue of a 1.5°C goal, with much more likely to come in the months ahead. One such paper (Huntingford, C. and Mercado, L. M. High chance that current atmospheric greenhouse concentrations commit to warmings greater than 1.5 °C over land. Sci. Rep. 6, 30294; doi: 10.1038/srep30294 (2016).) was reported on recently by the BBC, under the heading Debate needed on 1.5C temperature target.

In fact the paper was about where we are today in terms of temperature and reaches a similar conclusion to the one that I reported on recently after attending an MIT Joint Program forum. At that meeting, the response to my question about current levels of warming was as follows;

. . . . current warming is around 1.1°C since pre-industrial times, but that there is more to the story than this. The climate system is not at equilibrium, with the oceans still lagging in terms of heat uptake. Therefore, if the current level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was maintained at some 400 ppm, the surface temperature would rise by another few tenths of a degree before the system reached an equilibrium plateau.

Similarly, the paper reported on by the BBC, argues much the same line;

There is strong evidence that even for current levels of atmospheric GHGs, there is a very high probability that the planet is committed to a mean warming over land greater than 1.5 °C relative to pre-industrial times. Such warming could be greater than 2.0 °C, and in particular for large continental regions away from coastlines.

While a debate about the global goal wasn’t a feature of the paper itself, the BBC interviewed the authors and reported that while they believed it to be a good idea to have an “aspirational” 1.5°C goal in the Paris agreement, that nevertheless if the world is to take 1.5°C seriously, then a serious discussion needs to be held about the implications of that goal. The author of the paper is quoted as saying “I think there needs to be a very thoughtful debate about what’s to be gained at these different temperature levels, if approaching the lower levels meant severely damaging the economy,”.

Such a discussion has been largely absent, replaced with a somewhat myopic focus on 2°C and now “well below 2°C, with a view to 1.5°C”. I discussed this at some length in my first book, drawing on the work of the MIT Joint Program in their 2009 report Analysis of Climate Policy Targets under Uncertainty. In that report the authors demonstrated that even a modest attempt to mitigate emissions could profoundly affect the risk profile for equilibrium surface temperature. This is illustrated below with five mitigation scenarios, from a ‘do nothing’ approach (Level 5) to a very stringent climate regime (Level 1).

Shifting the Risk Profile

An important feature of the results is that the reduction in the tails of the temperature change distributions is greater than the shift in the temperature goal (represented by the median of the distribution). For example, the Level 4 stabilization scenario reduces the median temperature change by the last decade of this century by 1.7 ºC (from 5.1 to 3.4 ºC), but reduces the upper 95% bound by 3.2 ºC (from 8.2 to 5.0 ºC). In addition to being a larger magnitude reduction, there are reasons to believe that the relationship between temperature increase and damages is non-linear, creating increasing marginal damages with increasing temperature (e.g., Schneider et al., 2007). These results illustrate that even relatively loose constraints on emissions reduce greatly the chance of an extreme temperature increase, which is associated with the greatest damage.

But the other focus of the Paris Agreement stands apart from such debate. As previously discussed in several postings, Article 4 calls for a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century, i.e. a state of net-zero emissions. In fact such an outcome is eventually required irrespective of the temperature outcome; without it warming continues.

Net-zero emissions arguably brings a more practical focus to the task of emissions mitigation. It defines an end-point and allows a discussion on the pathway there, the types of technologies required and the shape of the energy economy once achieved. All of this features in the new supplement to the Shell New Lens Scenarios, A Better Life with a Healthy Planet: Pathways to Net-Zero Emissions.

Scenarios are part of an ongoing process used in Shell for more than 40 years to challenge executives’ perspectives on the future business environment. They are based on plausible assumptions and quantification, and are designed to stretch management thinking and even to consider events that may only be remotely possible.

Do we focus too much on electricity?

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A recent article posted on the GreenMoney e-jounal site argues that society is moving rapidly into a period of structural (and possibly abrupt) decline in fossil fuel use. The story, like many which argue along similar lines, draws on the current upward trend in renewable electricity deployment, noting that “Renewable energies have become too economically competitive for fossil fuels to contend with . . . “.

While this may be true at the margin when generating electricity, what does it mean for the energy system as a whole? Oil, gas and coal make up 80% of primary energy use (Source: IEA World Balance 2013), although it is often argued that this isn’t a representative picture as a significant percentage of the energy in fossil fuels is wasted as heat loss in power plants, which wouldn’t be the case for a technology such as solar PV. However, moving past primary energy and looking instead at final energy (i.e. the energy which we use to generate energy services such as mobility – so gasoline is a final energy whereas crude oil is primary energy) we see that oil products, natural gas and fuels such as metallurgical coal still make up two thirds of energy use, with electricity and heat comprising just over 20% of the mix. The balance is biofuels (comprising liquid fuels and direct use of biomass) and waste (IEA Sankey Chart for 2013).

Today electricity is generated primarily from coal and natural gas, with nuclear and hydroelectricity making up most of the difference. In 2014 the world generated 23,536 TWhrs of electricity, of which wind was 706 TWhrs (3%) and solar 185 TWhrs (<1%). Wind grew at 10% and solar at nearly 40% compared to the previous year (Source: BP Statistical Review of World Energy). This contrasts with an overall growth in electricity generation of 1.5% per annum. It is certainly possible to imagine a world in which solar and wind grow to dominate electricity production, but then we also need to imagine a world in which electricity grows to become the dominant final energy for renewables to dominate the energy system overall.

This is one of the key subjects that is dealt with in a recent Shell publication that I have worked on during this year; A Better Life With a Healthy Planet – Pathways to Net-Zero Emissions. For me, the most telling outcome of the scenario analysis and energy system modelling work behind the publication was that even in the latter part of the century when a net-zero carbon dioxide emissions state might be reached, electricity still only makes up ~50% of final energy. This means that 50% of final energy is something else!

The scenario presented shows a world that still requires several types of final energy to meet its needs. For example, liquid hydrocarbons still dominate in shipping and aviation, even as road passenger transport is hardly serviced by hydrocarbons at all. For road freight transport, a three way split has emerged between electricity, hydrocarbons and hydrogen.

Industry remains a large user of thermal fuels throughout the century, with key processes such as cement, chemicals and metallurgical process all dependent on their use for the foreseeable future. Electrification makes significant inroads to other types of industry, but this is far from universal. Hydrogen is a potential thermal fuel of the future, but processes might have to be modified significantly to make use of it. For example, it is possible for hydrogen to act as the reducing agent in iron smelting, but today this is a pilot plant scale research project.

Even the manufacture of hydrogen might take two routes, with competition through efficiency and cost determining the eventual winner. The first is the conversion of natural gas to make hydrogen, with the resulting carbon dioxide captured and geologically stored. Alternatively, hydrogen can be produced by electrolysis of water with renewable energy providing the necessary electricity.

Of course the continued use of fossil fuels to meet the needs of hydrocarbons in transport, industry and even power generation means extensive deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS).

Meeting the aim of the Paris Agreement and achieving a balance between anthropogenic emission sources and sinks (i.e. net zero emissions) is a complex challenge and not one that can necessarily be serviced by wind and solar, or for that matter electricity, alone. Rather, we potentially end up with a more diverse energy system, much larger in scale than today, with a set of new processes (CCS), new industries (hydrogen based) and new sources (solar PV).

NZE Energy System Development

Pathways from the Paris Agreement

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Laws and Sausages

As COP21 concluded I was reminded of a quote by Otto von Bismarck, ‘Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.’ Yet, over the course of the preceding decade I had done just that. I could now reflect upon the complex and torturous course of modern diplomacy that had worked to deliver a deal and which hopefully represents renewed global leadership on climate change.

Some 150 heads of Government and heads of state had turned up in Paris to kick off proceedings and although most departed immediately afterwards to leave the job with their negotiating teams, the telephones ran hot between capital cities across the world over the ensuing two weeks. Indeed, it was even rumoured that the newly forged friendship between the USA and Cuba meant that the two countries cooperated to put pressure on Nicaragua when it appeared that its negotiator was going to hold up proceedings with some fiery rhetoric in the final stages of the main plenary meeting.

In the previous eighteen months, staff in French embassies all over the world had worked tirelessly to support the process, but in the end it was the negotiators themselves working through the night in the final days who delivered the deal. All manner of behind the scenes trade-offs were made to resolve profound disagreements on a dozen or so key issues including the temperature goal itself, the eventual need for net zero emissions of greenhouse gases and the level of financial assistance for developing countries. There were also hundreds of smaller issues and points of principle that got dealt with during the final days, ranging from continued specific recognition of developing countries in certain instances to the role of a non-market mechanism to support mitigation.

In the days before the start of the COP the text had extended to nearly one hundred pages, with multiple variations of almost every clause and hundreds of square bracketed words and phrases, indicating disagreement amongst the Parties. But unlike 2009’s COP15 that took place in Copenhagen where almost everything that could go wrong, ultimately did, the French Foreign Ministry had left nothing to chance and were to be congratulated on an extraordinary outcome. . . . . .

The rest of this story and a deeper analysis of the Paris Agreement can be found in my new e-book, Pathways from the Paris Agreement. It is available on Amazon for their Kindle (and Kindle app for iPad and Android) or as a print-on-demand publication and coming soon on a number of other e-book platforms.

Pathways from the Paris Agreement (small)

All proceeds from this book will be donated to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) and the 2041 Foundation, two NGOs that I have worked with directly over many years.



In amongst the excitement created by the Brexit vote, on 30th June 2016 the UK Government met its statutory requirement and announced the details of the 5th Carbon Budget which covers the period 2028-2032. The Government followed the recommendation of the Climate Change Committee and advised that the carbon budget for the 2028–2032 budgetary period is 1,725,000,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. This assumes 590 MtCO2e covered by the EU ETS and subject to its carbon price and a nontraded share of 1,135 MtCO2e (excluding international shipping emissions). The overall budget represents a reduction of 56.9% below the 1990 baseline.

The UK is unique in the world with its carbon budget approach. This is the result of far reaching legislation enacted back in 2008 in the form of the Climate Change Act which requires the UK Government to establish a specific carbon budget for successive future periods. To date the UK is on track towards meeting the 2nd Carbon budget, as described in a recently released summary of greenhouse gas emissions which covers the period up to the end of 2014. But the journey has been relatively easy so far. With the continued shift to natural gas and away from coal, the arrival of wind and to a lesser extent solar, the 2008-2009 recession and the higher cost of oil and gas in recent years driving real efficiency and demand reduction, UK emissions have fallen.

UK GHG Emissions to 2014

In 1990 UK CO2 emissions per kWhr of electricity generation were 672 grams, whereas today they are around 450 grams. As a result, emissions from power generation have fallen, even with current electricity demand higher than the 1990 level. By contrast, road transport emissions have remained about flat for 25 years although there has been a marked shift from gasoline to diesel. Another significant reduction has come from industry, but much of this is due to an overall reduction in heavy industry (steel making, refineries), in favour of services (media and finance) and high technology industry (e.g. aerospace).

With a large natural gas base and a diminished heavy industry sector, has the UK now reached an interim floor in terms of national greenhouse gas emissions? While there are still gains to be made in the electricity sector, future progress towards the goals of the 3rd, 4th and 5th Carbon Budgets will require additional action in other parts of the economy.

UK Emissions Progress

The 5th Carbon Budget requires nearly another 200 Mt per annum of reductions across the UK, compared to the 2nd Carbon Budget period that we are currently in. Even with Hinkley Point nuclear and an ambitious renewables programme (which is reported as being off track ), it is unlikely that power generation emissions would fall more than 100 MT per annum. A 200-250 gram per KWh goal by 2030, equivalent to about 50% natural gas and 50% nuclear/renewables would mean a fall of about 70 Mt. There may also be upward pressure on the sector as transport electrifies.

The above implies that the emission reduction focus will have to expand more rapidly into the transport and residential areas in particular. While the residential sector has been an area of action for some time with a focus on boiler efficiency and home insulation, the rate determining step here is turnover in housing stock or at least housing refurbishment, which can be very slow.

UK transport emissions have hardly budged over many years, although there has been some redistribution within the sector. A sharp single step reduction came during the 2008-2009 recession, but that fall has not been continued. Data since the late 2014 price fall in crude oil is not available yet, but that may put upward pressure on transport emissions. Between now and 2030 there is the opportunity for a single turnover of the vehicle fleet, but EV sales are still only very modest in the UK. In March 2016 there were some 67,000 registered plug-in cars in the UK, less than 0.2% of the fleet. During January to March 2016, some 11,750 new ultra low emission vehicles (ULEVs) were registered in the UK. Over the year to the end of March 2016, ULEVs represented 1.0% of all new registrations, compared with 0.8% over the previous year and 0.2% over the year before that.

The 5th Carbon Budget represents a further landmark step for the UK, but it also means a shift in policy emphasis is required in the near term.

Pathways to Net-Zero Emissions

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Three years ago when Shell released their New Lens Scenarios, the two views of the future looked out far beyond previous scenarios, taking in the period from 2050-2100. This offered the opportunity for both scenarios to explore ways in which the world might reach a point of net-zero carbon dioxide emissions, down from some 40 billion tonnes per annum at the moment. Such an outcome is critically important for the global environment as it means stabilization and then probably some decline in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, an essential requirement for limiting the current rise in surface temperature.

Net-zero emissions is also a requirement of the Paris Agreement. Article 4 is very clear in that regard, with its call;

“so as to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century. . . “

Energy scenarios typically explore the nearer term and many limit their horizon at 2050, but that isn’t sufficient for seeing truly profound changes in the energy system. These will play out on longer timescales, given the size of the system, the capital and capacity required to turn the system over. Solar energy is a good example. Today, we are in the middle of an apparent boom, but that is founded on years of development and improvement in the underlying technologies, a process that is still underway. Even at current deployment rates, solar still makes up only a small fraction of the global power generation system and electricity only represents 20% of the final energy we actually use. But over many decades, an energy technology such as solar PV may come to dominate the system.

Looking at the emissions issue from the fossil fuel side, even if solar was to dominate, would fossil fuels and the associated emissions of carbon dioxide necessarily decline? Simply building more renewables doesn’t guarantee such an outcome and even a significant reduction in fossil fuel use could still mean a continuing rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide, albeit at a reduced rate. Scenarios help explore such questions and by extending the New Lens Scenarios to 2100, real solutions to reaching net zero emissions present themselves.

The original “New Lens Scenarios” publication from 2013 focussed more on the period through to 2060, but a new publication released by Shell looks specifically at the challenge posed by net zero emissions and explores plausible pathways towards such an outcome using the “New Lens Scenarios” as a backdrop. I have been involved in the development and writing of this publication, which started in earnest only days after the Paris Agreement was adopted. But the material within it comes from the strong base built up over many years through the various Shell scenarios.

The analysis presented sees the energy system doubling in size as global population heads towards 10 billion people. Today we collectively consume about 500 Exajoules of energy; this could rise to some 1000 Exajoules by the end of the century. The makeup of that energy system will most likely look very different from today, but it is probably not a world without fossil energy; rather it is a world with net-zero carbon dioxide emissions. Carbon capture and storage therefore plays a significant role. Even in 2100, hydrocarbon fuels could still make sense for sectors such as aviation, shipping, chemicals and some heavy industry. Electrification of the energy system would need to shifted from ~20% today to over 50% during the century.

NZE Energy mix in 2100
The new supplement is called “A Better Life with a Healthy Planet. Pathways to Net-Zero Emissions”. The title highlights the intersection between the need for energy to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the requirement of the Paris Agreement to reach net-zero emissions. A better life relies on universal access to energy. The publication comes with a wealth of online material to support it.

NZE Cover