Archive for the ‘Low carbon economy’ Category

Being a climate change adviser

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.

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

The UK 5th Carbon Budget

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.

The Connected Man

Back in September 1971, an article appeared in Scientific American on energy use. It remains very current today. Earl Cook was attempting to look at the limits to energy use and how that energy might be provided in a modern society. The article starts with the chart below that shows potential demand from various stages of human development.

Earl Cook Diagram

Today, we see human society spread right across the chart with substantial parts of the world in one of the versions of Agricultural Man, whilst many of us are in Technological Man. Global energy use stands at some 600 EJ, or about 80 GJ per person per annum whereas in 1971 the number was around 60 GJ. There are significant regional, national and even sub-national differences, with the USA at around 300 GJ and India at 30 GJ as two examples. It is also important to recognise that the Earl Cook chart applies more to the individual archetypes, rather than to national averages. At any point in time, the national average may include people in several categories and the individual demand may not be fully reflected in the national average if imports exceed exports in quantity or carbon intensity or both.

Cook pondered about where this energy might come from and what the limits of supply might be. Although resource constraint was a popular topic at the time (and another article in the same edition of the journal was by peak oil enthusiast M. King Hubbert), Cook concluded that environmental constraints may be more limiting than the resource itself. Although his focus was on more local environmental issues, his overall thinking was close to the mark as society now faces real constraints on emissions of carbon dioxide.

Yet we are far from done in terms of progression from Primitive Man to Technological Man.

Further on, Connected Man, which perhaps didn’t feature in Cook’s 1971 thinking, offers a very different outlook. Such a concept poses a real challenge – will Connected Man use even more energy than Technological Man with the introduction of a new Information category in the bar chart and further expansion within the other categories? Or perhaps Connected Man can break the trend above and bring such efficiency to the other categories that overall energy use per person falls, even as development progresses? That would be unprecedented (N.B. The Connected Man energy numbers are notional and for illustration purposes only).

Earl Cook Diagram (Connected Man)

Connected Man is starting to appear today, with the prospect of 20 billion connected devices comprising the Internet of Things as early as 2020. A trillion connected devices by 2050 would be a reasonable extrapolation from that; it represents less than 15% growth in such devices per annum. It may be much more than this, but the energy demanded by these is unlikely to be trivial, even as efficiency improves.

The real question is what such connectivity offers to the energy system as a whole? Can it also lower the energy use of Industrial Man as well as offering the prospect of leapfrog to a much lower energy demand end state than might have been anticipated for Technological Man? That might have a profound impact on expected global demand later in the century even as we collectively progress to Connected Man. Nevertheless, while 21st century efficiency will very likely temper eventual energy use per capita, particularly against Cook’s 1970s estimates, the premise of rising energy demand at a global level still stands.

Earl Cook Diagram (Connected Man +)

Some post-Paris diplomacy

President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met last week for their first formal bilateral meeting since the latter was elected. With the success of the Paris Agreement behind them, the two leaders made their first steps together towards implementation with the announcement of a number of actions. A greater focus on methane emissions figured high on the list of things to do, but perhaps even more important than this was the recognition that co-opoerative action is required to implement the provisions within the Paris Agreement that are aimed at carbon market development. The joint statement released during the meeting made a very specific reference to this work;

Recognizing the role that carbon markets can play in helping countries achieve their climate targets while also driving low-carbon innovation, both countries commit to work together to support robust implementation of the carbon markets-related provisions of the Paris Agreement. The federal governments, together and in close communication with states, provinces and territories, will explore options for ensuring the environmental integrity of transferred units, in particular to inform strong INDC accounting and efforts to avoid “double-counting” of emission reductions.

The reference here is to Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, which allows for “internationally transferable mitigation outcomes” (ITMO) between Nationally Determined Contributions. Article 6 also establishes an emissions mitigation mechanism (EMM) which could well support the ITMO by becoming, amongst other things, a standardised carbon unit for transfer purposes. These are the sorts of areas where considerable thought will be required over the coming months.

The statement represents a big step forward for the United States and for the further development of carbon markets. The USA was amongst the very first countries to release its INDC, within which can be found the statement;

Use of markets:
At this time, the United States does not intend to utilize international market mechanisms to implement its 2025 target.

This was not a big surprise at the time. It was still early days for the resurgent political interest in the importance of government implementation of carbon pricing and therefore the supporting role that international carbon markets can play in helping optimise its use. But a great deal has happened in a year (the USA released its INDC on March 25th 2015), topped off with Article 6 in the Paris Agreement. This time last year that looked like an almost impossible dream, although several of us in the carbon pricing community dared to talk about it.

But perhaps it is the developments in North America itself that have raised the profile of cross-border carbon unit trade with the respective national governments. Although the California-Québec linked cap-and-trade system got going in 2014, it wasn’t until 2015 that Ontario showed a sudden interest in joining the system. At the April 2015 Québec Summit on Climate Change, Ontario announced its intention to set up a cap-and-trade system and join the Québec-California carbon market. The following September, Quebec and Ontario signed a cooperation agreement aimed at facilitating Ontario’s upcoming membership in the Québec- California carbon market. To add to this, during COP21 Manitoba announced that it would implement, for its large emitters, a cap-and-trade system compatible with the Quebec-California carbon market. Québec and Ontario then committed in Paris to collaborate with Manitoba in the development of its system bysigning a memorandum of understanding tothat effect.

Others US states and Canadian provinces may join, with Mexico also looking on in interest. This could in turn lead to a significant North American club of carbon markets; perhaps one even starting to match the scale and breadth of the 30 member EU ETS. Clubs of carbon markets are seen by many observers as the quickest and most effective route to widespread adoption of carbon pricing. The Environmental Defence Fund based out of New York has written extensively on the subject with their most recent paper being released in August last year.

With parts of the USA members of a multi-national club of carbon markets, the Federeal government is then effectively bound to build their use into their NDC thinking. There may be a significant flow of units across national borders, which will make it necessary to account for them through Article 6 and the various transparency provisions of the Paris Agreement.

But most importantly there is the economic benefit of doing this; a larger more diverse market will almost certainly see a lower cost of carbon across the participating jurisdictions than would otherwise have been the case. This could translate into a lower societal cost for reaching a given decarbonization goal or open up the possibility of greater mitigation ambition.

The last few weeks have seen a flood of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) arrive at the UNFCCC offices in Bonn, presumably to be included in the assessment of progress promised by the UNFCCC Secretariat for release well before the Paris COP21.

There are now some 150 submissions and assessing them in aggregate requires some thinking about methodology. For starters, the temperature rise we will eventually see is driven by cumulative emissions over time (with a climate sensitivity of about 2°C per trillion tonnes of carbon – or 3.7 trillion tonnes CO2), not emissions in the period from 2020 to 2025 or 2030 which is the point at which most of the INDCs end. In fact, 2025 or 2030 represent more of a starting point than an end point for many countries. Nevertheless, in reading the INDCs, the proposals put forward by many countries give some clues as to where they might be going.

For Europe, the USA and many developed economies, the decline in emissions is already underway or at least getting started, with most having already said that by mid-century reductions of 70-80% vs. the early part of the century should be possible. But many emerging economies are also giving signs as to their long term intentions. For example, the South Africa INDC proposes a Peak-Plateau-Decline strategy, which sees a peak around 2020-2025, plateau for a decade and then a decline. Similarly, China has clearly signalled a peak in emissions around 2030, although with development at a very different stage in India, such a peak date has yet to be transmitted by that government.

Nevertheless, with some bold and perhaps optimistic assumptions, it is possible to assess the cumulative efforts and see where we might be by the end of the century or into the early part of next century. In doing this I used the following methodology;

  1. Use an 80/20 approach, i.e. assess the INDCs of the top 15-20 emitters and make an assumption about the rest of the world. My list includes USA, China, India, Europe, Brazil, Indonesia, South Africa, Canada, Mexico, Russia, Japan, Australia, Korea, Thailand, Taiwan, Iran and Saudi Arabia. In current terms, this represents 85% of global energy system CO2 emissions.
  2. For the rest of the world (ROW), assume that emissions double by 2040 and plateau, before declining slowly throughout the second half of the century.
  3. For most countries, assume that emissions are near zero by 2100, with global energy emissions nearing 5 billion tonnes. The majority of this is in ROW, but with India and China still at about 1 billion tonnes per annum each, effectively residual coal use.
  4. Cement use rises to about 5 billion tonnes per annum by mid-century, with abatement via CCS not happening until the second half of the century. One tonne of cement produces about half a tonne of process CO2 from the calcination of fossil limestone.
  5. Land use CO2 emissions have been assessed by many organisations, but I have used numbers from Oxford University’s spreadsheet, which currently puts it at some 1.4 billion tonnes per annum of carbon (i.e. ~5 billion tonnes CO2). Given the INDC of Brazil and its optimism in managing deforestation, I have assumed that this declines throughout the century, but still remains marginally net positive in 2100.
  6. I have not included short lived climate forcers such as methane. These contribute more to the rate of temperature rise than the eventual outcome, provided of course that by the time we get to the end of the century they have been successfully managed.
  7. Cumulative emissions currently stand at 600 billion tonnes carbon according to

The end result of all of this are the charts below, the first being global CO2 emissions on an annual basis and the one below that being cumulative emissions over time. The all important cumulative emissions top out just below 1.4 trillion tonnes carbon.

Global CO2 Emissions Post INDC

Global Cumulative Emissions post INDCs

The trillionth tonne point, or the equivalent of 2°C, is passed around 2050, some 11 years later than the current end-2038 date indicated on the Oxford University website. My end point is the equivalent of about 2.8°C, well below 4+°C, but not where it needs to be. The curve has to flatten much faster than current INDCs will deliver, yet as emissions accumulate, the time to do so is ticking away.

Even with a five year review period built into the Paris agreement, can the outcome in 2030 or 2035 really be significantly different to this outlook? Will countries that have set out their stall through to 2030 actually change this part way through or even before they have started along said pathway? One indication that they might comes from China, where a number of institutions believe that national emissions could peak well before 2030. However, the problem with accumulation is that history is your enemy as much as the future might be. Even as emissions are sharply reduced, the legacy remains.

Nevertheless, we shouldn’t feel hopeless about such an outcome. Last week I was at the 38th Forum of the MIT Joint Program on the Policy and Science of Global Change and I was reminded again during one of the presentations of their Level 1 to Level 4 mitigation outcomes which I wrote about in my first book, 2°C Will Be Harder than we Think. These are shown below.

Shifting the Risk Profile

Taking no mitigation action at all results in a potential temperature distribution with a tail that stretches out past 7°C, albeit with a low probability. However, we can’t entertain even a low probability of such an outcome, so some level of mitigation must take place. While Level 1 remains the goal (note however that the MIT 2°C is not above pre-industrial, but relative to 1981-2000), MIT have shown that lesser outcomes remove the long tail and contain the climate issue to some extent. The INDC analysis I have presented is similar to Level 2 mitigation, which means the Paris process could deliver a very substantial reduction in global risk even if it doesn’t equate to 2°C. More appreciation of and discussion around this risk management approach is required, rather than the obsession with 2°C or global catastrophe that many currently present.

Of course, extraordinary follow through will be required. Each and every country needs to deliver on their INDC, many of which are dependent on very significant financial assistance. I looked at this recently for Kenya and India. Further, the UNFCCC process needs its own follow through to ensure that global emissions do trend towards zero throughout the century, which remains a very tall order.

Assessing the INDCs

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It is now just 100 days until COP21 in Paris.

The summer months have seen many Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) submitted to the UNFCCC prior to the assessment deadline of October 1st. This is the date when the UNFCCC secretariat will start work on a synthesis report on the aggregate effect of the INDCs as communicated by Parties. Many organisations are already offering assessments of progress, with most basing this on reductions through to 2030 against a notional 2°C pathway.

However, the climate system doesn’t care about 2030 nor does it respond to changes in annual emissions. The real metric is cumulative emissions over time, with each trillion tonnes of carbon released into the atmosphere equivalent to about 2°C rise in temperature rise (this isn’t precisely linear, but it is a reasonable rule of thumb to use). This means that any assessment must look well beyond 2030 and make some bold assumptions as to where the emissions pathways then go. It also means that the wide variety of pledges using metrics such as the share of renewable energy in the power generation mix, installed solar capacity or emissions per GDP, whilst important in the context of energy system development, offer limited insight into the trend for cumulative emissions.

A good example of this comes from looking at the INDC from China. They have pledged the following;

  • To achieve the peaking of carbon dioxide emissions around 2030 and making best efforts to peak early;
  • To lower carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by 60% to 65% from the 2005 level;
  • To increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 20%; and
  • To increase the forest stock volume by around 4.5 billion cubic meters on the 2005 level.

From an energy emissions context, only the first part of this pledge is really important, but little information is given allowing an assessment of its real impact on the climate system. Some big assumnptions will have to be made.

According to the Oxford Martin School carbon emissions counter, global cumulative emissions now stand at nearly 600 billion tonnes of carbon (2.2 trillion tonnes CO2). Back in November 2014 when China and the USA announced their climate deal, I speculated that the Chinese side of the Sino-US deal could see their emissions rising to as much as 14.5 billion tonnes CO2 per annum by 2030 based on the following assumption;

The USA and China appear to have adopted a “Contraction and Convergence” approach, with a goal of around 10 tonnes CO2 per capita for 2030, at least for energy related emissions. For China this means emissions of some 14.5 billion tpa in 2030, compared with the latest IEA number for 2012 of 8.3 billion tonnes, so a 75% increase over 2012 or 166% increase over 2005. It also has China peaking at a level of per capita CO2 emissions similar to Europe when it was more industrial, rather than ramping up to the current level of say, the USA or Australia (both ~16 tonnes). By comparison, Korea currently has energy CO2/capita emissions of ~12 tonnes, so China peaking at 10 is some 17% below that.

Of course China could still peak at lower levels than this and the economic downturn they currently seem to be facing may ensure this. Nevertheless, two reduction pathways following 2030 give a very different cumulative outlook for the period 2015-2100. It is this cumulative outcome that matters, not where China might happen to find itself in 2030. While the period up to 2030 is important, it only tells a fraction of the story. Chinese emissions over that period will likely add some 50 billion tonnes of carbon to the global cumulative total, but this is small compared to their potential remaining cumulative contribution (i.e, before they are at net-zero emissions). The two pathways below illustrate the difference;

  1. A plateau for about a decade, followed by a long slow reduction through to near zero by 2100 means cumulative emissions from 2015 are around 800 billion tonnes of CO2, or 220 billion tonnes of carbon. In this scenario, Chinese emissions alone take the global carbon emissions total to 820 billion tonnes.
  2. A sharp decline from 2030 to zero before 2080 gives cumulative emissions of 550 billion tonnes, or 150 billion tonnes carbon. In this case the global total rises to 750 billion tonnes carbon based on Chinese emissions alone.

Either way, China will have a profound impact on global cumulative emissions. But this fairly simple analysis illustrates that the period from 2030 onwards is where the real story lies, which to date isn’t covered by any of the INDC submissions. For a 2°C outcome, even the lower of the two scenarios above leaves little carbon space for the remaining 7+ billion people living on the planet throughout the 21st century.

Impact of Chinese Cumulative Emissions

The cost of contributions

The process of national governments submitting Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) to the UNFCCC is well underway, with a number of developing and least developed economies also submitting plans. Most recent amongst these is a detailed and ambitious plan from the government of Kenya.

The Kenya INDC proposes a 30% reduction in national greenhouse gas emissions from a business-as-usual (BAU) trajectory, which it is also very clear in defining. The plan notes that Kenya strives to be a newly industrialized middle income country by 2030. Current emissions are very low, with the majority coming from land use change (LULUCF). In 2010 emissions were 73 MtCO2eq, with the IEA reporting energy CO2 emissions of 11.4 Mt for that year. Given the population of 41 million in 2010, that gives an energy linked CO2 per capita of 0.28 tonnes, amongst the lowest in the world. Kenya has projected BAU emissions of 143 MTCO2eq by 2030, so that gives them a goal of just on 100 MTCO2eq for that year on the basis of their INDC.

Kenya has also made it clear that their INDC is subject to international support in the form of finance, investment, technology development and transfer, and capacity building. With some of this support coming from domestic sources, they estimate the total cost of mitigation and adaptation actions across sectors at US$40 billion, through to 2030. My first reaction to this was that it seemed like quite a hefty bill, but better to look at the numbers.

First of all, a few assumptions. These are all open to challenge, but they help frame the issue and allow some assessment of the numbers to at least establish a ballpark estimate of value for money and the implications flowing from that.

  1. I will look at mitigation only, so let’s assume that the $40 billion is split between mitigation and adaptation, but with emphasis on mitigation. That allows ~$10+ billion for major public works and capacity building programmes focussed on areas such as water and agriculture and $20-$30 billion in the energy system.
  2. I will assume that energy system growth and adaptation funding allows for a plateau and then gradual decline in LULUCF emissions, such that by 2050 these are below 10 MT per annum.
  3. A BAU for energy emissions only would see Kenya rising to nearly 2 tonnes per capita by 2030 (current Asia, excluding China) and 6 tonnes per capita by 2050 (approaching current Europe). This would mean extensive use of fossil fuels, but supplemented by their geothermal and hydroelectric resources in particular. This is the pathway that they might be on in the absence of this INDC.
  4. Kenya’s population rises in line with the UN mid-level scenario, i.e. to 66 million by 2030 and 97 million by 2050.

Based on the above, energy emissions could rise to some 120 Mt p.a. by 2030 and 600 Mt p.a. by 2050 under a BAU scenario. But in the INDC scenario, this could be curtailed such that they are at 70 Mt p.a. in 2030 and perhaps as low as 130 Mt p.a. in 2050, or 70-80% below BAU. The 2030 number is the more important one for this calculation as this is what the $20-$30 billion delivers, although the benefits of the investment stretch beyond 2030. However, further additional investment would be required to keep emissions at such a low level through to 2050 as energy demand grows.

The deviation from BAU is nearly 50 Mt p.a. by 2030, with that deviation starting in the early 2020s. If the gains are held through to 2050, then the cumulative emission reduction over the period is around 1 billion tonnes. On a simple 20 year project life with no discounting, that equates to around $25 per tonne of CO2 against the $20-$30 billion investment in the 2020s. On that basis, this looks like a good deal and is well within the bounds of plausibility. It could equate to a mixture of expanded renewable energy deployment, natural gas instead of coal and possibly some biofuel development for transport.

What is perhaps more interesting is how this scales up across Africa and other parts of the world where energy access is currently limited. If 1-2 billion people globally need support for similar energy infrastructure, that implies a financial requirement of about US$1 trillion over the period 2020-2030 just for mitigation (i.e. 30+ times the Kenya population of 50 million, multiplied by $US30 billion). This equates to $100 billion per annum, which is also the number that was agreed in Copenhagen in 2009 as the call on increased financial flows to developing countries, although that was for both mitigation and adaptation purposes. It also implies that if the world does reach the US$100 billion per annum goal, then most of this will be for mitigation in the least developed economies as they build their 21st century energy systems.

The flip side of this is that the emerging economies will probably have to self-fund, which argues for the implementation of a carbon price on a far wider basis than is currently envisaged. China is leading the way here, but so too are countries like Mexico and Chile.

The Kenya INDC offers some interesting insight into climate politics in the years to come.

From sunlight to Jet A1

In a world of near zero anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide, there remains the problem of finding a fuel or energy carrier of sufficiently high energy density that it remains practical to fly a modern jet aeroplane. Commercial aviation is heading towards some 1 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per annum so doing nothing may not be an option.

Although planes will certainly evolve over the course of the century, the rate of change is likely to be slow and particularly so if a step change in technology is involved. In 100 years of civil aviation there have been two such step changes; the first commercial flights in the 1910s and the shift of the jet engine from the military to the commercial world with the development of the Comet and Boeing 707. The 787 Dreamliner is in many respects a world away from the 707, but in terms of the fuel used it is the same plane; that’s 60 years and there is no sign of the next change.

Unlike domestic vehicles where electricity and batteries offer an alternative, planes will probably still need hydrocarbon fuel for all of this century, perhaps longer. Hydrogen is a possibility but the fuel to volume ratio would change such that this could also mean a radical redesign of the whole shape of the plane (below), which might also entail redesign of other infrastructure such as airport terminals, air bridges and so on. Even the development and first deployment of the double decker A380, something of a step change in terms of shape and size, has taken twenty years and cost Airbus many billions.


For aviation, the simplest approach will probably be the development of a process to produce a look-alike hydrocarbon fuel. The most practical way to approach this problem is via an advanced biofuel route and a few processes are available to fill the need, although scale up of these technologies has yet to take place. But what if the biofuel route also proves problematic – say for reasons related to land use change or perhaps public acceptance in a future period of rising food prices? A few research programmes are looking at synthesising the fuel directly from water and carbon dioxide. This is entirely possible from a chemistry perspective, but it requires lots of energy; at least as much energy as the finished fuel gives when it is used and its molecules are returned to water and carbon dioxide.

Audi has been working on such a project and recently announced the production of the first fuel from their pilot plant (160 litres per day). According to their media release;

The Sunfire [Audi’s technology partner] plant requires carbon dioxide, water, and electricity as raw materials. The carbon dioxide is extracted from the ambient air using direct air capture. In a separate process, an electrolysis unit splits water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen is then reacted with the carbon dioxide in two chemical processes conducted at 220 degrees Celsius and a pressure of 25 bar to produce an energetic liquid, made up of hydrocarbon compounds, which is called Blue Crude. This conversion process is up to 70 percent efficient. The whole process runs on solar power.

Apart from the front end of the facility where carbon dioxide is reacted with hydrogen to produce synthesis gas (carbon monoxide and hydrogen), the rest of the plant should be very similar to the full scale Pearl Gas to Liquids (GTL) facility that Shell operates in Qatar. In that process, natural gas is converted to synthesis gas which is in turn converted to a mix of longer chain hydrocarbons, including jet fuel (contained within the Audi Blue Crude). The Pearl facility produces about 150,000 bbls/day of hydrocarbon product, so perhaps one hundred such facilities would be required to produce enough jet fuel for the world (this would depend on the yield of suitable jet fuel from the process which produces a range of hydrocarbon products that can be put to many uses). Today there are just a handful of gas-to-liquids plants in operation; Pearl and Oryx in Qatar, Bintulu in Malaysia and Mossel Bay in South Africa (and another in South Africa that uses coal as the starting feedstock). The final conversion uses the Fischer Tropsch process, originally developed about a century ago.

Each of these future “blue crude” facilities would also need a formidable solar array to power it. The calorific content of the fuels is about 45 TJ/kt, so that is the absolute minimum amount of energy required for the conversion facility. However, accounting for efficiency of the process and adding in the energy required for air extraction of carbon dioxide and all the other energy needs of a modern industrial facility, a future process might need up to 100 TJ/kt of energy input. The Pearl GTL produces 19 kt of product per day, so the energy demand to make this from water and carbon dioxide would be 1900 TJ per day, or 700,000 TJ per annum. As such,  this requires a nameplate capacity for a solar PV farm of about 60 GW – roughly equal to half the entire installed global solar generating capacity in 2013. A Middle East location such as Qatar receives about 2200 kWh/m² per annum, or 0.00792 TJ/m² and assuming a future solar PV facility that might operate at 35% efficiency (considerably better than commercial facilities today), the solar PV alone would occupy an area of some 250 km² , so perhaps 500 km² or more in total plot area (i.e. 22 kms by 22 kms in size) for the facility.

This is certainly not inconceivable, but it is far larger than any solar PV facilities in operation today; the Topaz solar array in California is on a site 25 square kms in size with a nameplate capacity of 550 MW.  It is currently the largest solar farm in the world and produces about 1.1 million MWh per annum (4000 TJ), but the efficiency (23%) is far lower than my future assumption above. At this production rate, 175 Topaz farms would be required to power a refinery with the hydrocarbon output of Pearl GTL. My assumptions represent a packing density of solar PV some four times better than Topaz (i.e. 100 MW/km² vs 22 MW/km²).

All this means that our net zero emissions world needs to see the construction of some 100 large scale hydrocarbon synthesis plants, together with air extraction facilities, hydrogen and carbon monoxide storage for night time operation of the reactors and huge solar arrays. This could meet all the future aviation needs and would also produce lighter and heavier hydrocarbons for various other applications where electricity is not an option (e.g. chemical feedstock, heavy marine fuels). In 2015 money, the investment would certainly run into the trillions of dollars.

What can really be done by 2050?

The calls for action are becoming louder and bolder as the weeks continue to countdown towards COP21 in Paris. Perhaps none have been as bold as the recent call by The B Team for governments to commit to a global goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and to embed this in the agreement to be signed at COP21 in Paris.

The B Team is a high profile group of business and civil society leaders, counting amongst its number Richard Branson (Virgin Group of Companies), Paul Polman (CEO of Unilever) and Arianna Huffington (Huffington Post). The team is not just looking at climate change, but the even larger challenge of doing business in the 21st Century; shifting from Plan A which requires business to focus on profit alone, to Plan B which encompasses a more holistic set of objectives around financial performance, sustainability and business as a force for good to help solve challenging social and environmental goals. It is perhaps the next big step forward in what was originally termed “sustainable development”.

Without wanting to question the broader motives of The B Team, I do challenge their view that the climate issue can be resolved in just 35 years. For some this may sound like a long time, but it is the span of just one career. In fact it is the span of my career in the oil and gas industry from when I started work in Geelong Refinery in Australia in 1980. At least in one industry today, IT, everything has changed in that time, but that is not true elsewhere. In 1980 there were no personal computers in Geelong Refinery; today it probably can’t run without them, although the distillers, crackers and oil movement facilities being run by them have hardly changed and in many instances are precisely the same pieces of equipment that were running in 1980. In almost every other industry, the shift has been gradual, perhaps because of the installed base which of course wasn’t an issue for personal computing and mobile telephony. I suspect that this is true in Mr Polman’s own industry (household products) and it is certainly true in Mr Branson’s. In 1980 I flew on my first trip to London on a 747 and today I am in San Francisco, having arrived here on a 747, albeit a slightly longer, more sophisticated, efficient and larger capacity one than the 1980 model, but still a 747 burning many tons of jet fuel to get here. During his time in office which started with the election in 1980, Ronald Reagan replaced the existing Air Force One 707 with a 747 which still flies today but which Mr Obama has just announced will be replaced with a 747-8. Those planes will likely fly for some 30 years, as will all the other planes being built today, with many just entering the beginning of their production runs (787, A350, A380), rather than heading towards the end as we might be with the 747 series. There are also no serious plans for the jet engine to run on anything other than hydrocarbons for the foreseeable future (i.e. 50+ years) and even the attempts to manufacture bio-hydrocarbon jet fuels are still in their commercial infancy.

So why would we think that everything can be different in just 35 years? There is no doubt that to quickly and decisively solve the climate issue and have a better than even chance of keeping the surface temperature rise below 2°C that we need to do this, but that doesn’t mean we can. To start with, there has to be tremendous political will to do so and to be fair, this is clearly what The B Team is trying to foster by making the call. But political will isn’t enough to turn over the installed industrial capacity that we rely on today, let alone replace it with a set of technologies that in some instances don’t exist. The development and deployment of radical new technologies takes decades, with the energy industry able to make that change at about half the rate of the IT industry. Even the latter has needed nearly 50 years to invent (ARPANET in 1969) and extensively deploy the internet.

We are now seeing real progress in the sale of electric cars, but even there the numbers don’t stack up. To completely outpace conventional vehicle manufacture and replace the entire legacy stock of on-road vehicles will take about 50 years, assuming a ramp up of global electric car production of at least 20% p.a. every year until all internal combustion engine manufacturing is phased out. While this might be conceivable for personal transport, the progress on finding an alternative for heavy transport, including ships, is slow.

For medium to heavy industry that relies almost completely on hydrocarbon fuels for high temperature operations in particular, there are no easy alternatives. Electricity could be an option in some instances, but almost all operations today choose coal or natural gas. For smelting, coal is essential as it provides the carbon to act as a reducing agent for the chemical conversion of the ore into a pure metal.

Perhaps the area in which rapid progress will be seen is electricity generation, where a whole range of zero emission technologies exist. These include wind, solar, geothermal, tidal, nuclear and carbon capture and storage. But even with complete success in this one area, we shouldn’t forget that electricity is less than 20% of the current global final energy mix. This will surely rise, but it is unlikely to reach 100% in 35 years given that it has only moved from 11% to 18% the last 35 years.

Shell’s own New Lens Scenarios show that significant progress can be made between now and 2050, but not in terms of a massive reduction in emissions, although that process is clearly underway in the Mountains Scenario by then (see below). Rather, the time to 2050 is largely filled with the early deployment of a range of new energy technologies, which sets the scene for rapid reductions to net-zero emissions over the period 2050-2100. Another critical development for the near-term is a complete global policy framework for carbon pricing. Even assuming big steps are made between now and Paris in even getting this into the agreement, the time for implementation is a factor that must be recognised. With a fast start in Paris, the earliest possible date is 2020 in that this is when the global agreement kicks in, but even the EU ETS took 8 years between initial design and full operation, similarly the CDM alone took over 10 years to fully institutionalize. Expanding full carbon pricing globally in the same period is challenging to say the least.

NLS Emissions to 2100

The aspiration of the B Team is laudable, but not really practical. The Paris agreement should certainly be geared around an end-goal of net-zero emissions but the realistic, albeit still aggressive, time span for this is 80+ years, not 35 years.