Fossil fuel company projections won’t meet Paris Agreement climate targets, researchers say

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The decarbonisation scenarios produced by BP, Royal Dutch Shell and Equinor are incompatible with the goals of the Paris Agreement for a safe and habitable planet.

That’s the conclusion of new research highlighting how the global decarbonization scenarios outlined by these energy companies show lagged reductions in fossil fuel consumption and risk exceeding vital climate targets. Led by research organization Climate Analytics and including researchers from Imperial College London, the study is published today in Communication Nature.

Scenarios are produced by public, commercial and academic institutions and project what future energy needs and resulting emissions would look like. These scenarios inform planning around the world by governments and other organizations to determine how quickly different sectors should reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Scenarios are built by predicting the future energy needs of different economic sectors, such as agriculture and manufacturing, and projecting the energy sources that would be needed to supply them, such as fossil fuels, nuclear or renewable energies. renewable. These projections of the future energy mix are then used to estimate what the resulting carbon emissions would be.

Fossil fuel companies have produced their own scenarios for future global energy consumption for many decades, but in recent years they have also factored in decarbonization targets and the resulting climate outcomes.

However, the scenarios’ underlying assumptions to support their claims of consistency with the Paris Agreement are not always clear. This makes them difficult to compare with scenarios developed by the scientific community, such as those used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Now, researchers have analyzed six institutional scenarios released between 2020 and mid-2021 and calculated what the temperature outcomes are for those scenarios, using open-source methodology and a transparent set of criteria to map those temperature outcomes to goals. of the Paris Agreement.

The scenarios include four of the oil majors (two from BP, one from Royal Dutch Shell and one from Equinor) and two developed by the International Energy Agency (IEA). The results show that most of the scenarios assessed would be classified in the “sub-2°C pathways” (i.e. pathways that keep peak warming below 2°C, with a 66% probability or more).

Dr Robert Brecha, co-lead author of the Climate Analytics study, said: “Most of the scenarios we assessed would be classified as inconsistent with the Paris Agreement because they fail to limit warming to” well below 2°C, let alone 1.5°C, and would exceed the 1.5°C warming limit by a significant margin.”

Equinor’s ‘Rebalancing’ scenario peaks at a median warming of 1.73°C above pre-industrial levels in 2060, BP’s ‘Rapid’ scenario at 1.73°C in 2058, BP’s ‘Sky’ scenario Shell at 1.81°C in 2069, and the IEA’s Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS) at 1.78°C in 2056. BP’s Net Zero scenario results in a median peak warming of 1.65 °C, too high to meet Paris Agreement criteria — every fraction of a degree counts.

Only the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Net Zero 2050 scenario is aligned with the Paris Agreement consistency criteria that the researchers applied in the study.

Bill Hare, CEO and Principal Scientist at Climate Analytics, said: “Even temporarily exceeding 1.5°C warming would lead to catastrophic impacts and severely weaken our ability to adapt to climate change.

Co-author Dr Robin Lamboll, from Imperial’s Center for Environmental Policy, said: “It’s a good thing that traditionally fossil-based institutions are planning for the coming transition to clean energy.

“However, it is important that we do not allow oil companies to mark their own work when offering suggestions on how the world can move away from fossil fuels in a way that respects the Paris Agreement. It’s also important to be aware of these biases when databases of scenarios like this are used to define what is possible and what is ‘radical’ in terms of climate goals.”

In addition to the temperature results, the authors assessed which characteristics of the projected energy systems lead to a given scenario satisfying (or not) meeting the Paris Agreement. Although the development of renewable energy sources in the scenarios analyzed is similar to that of other scenarios that meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement, they foresee a particularly high use of coal and gas.

Some scenarios compensate for emissions from the use of charcoal through reforestation, but the analysis shows that this is insufficient. Dr Lamboll said: “While protecting existing forests and afforesting more areas is a good thing, in a world of limited land and increasingly difficult growing conditions, it is unwise to rely too much on forests to spare us the continued use of fossil fuels.

“Furthermore, the use of coal is particularly harmful for health reasons unrelated to climate change, and should not play a role in our future, even if we can grow forests or deploy emissions technologies. negative to counter carbon.”

The study gives policymakers the tools to critically assess the scenarios published by a number of public, commercial and academic institutions describing how they will achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Dr Matthew Gidden, co-author of the Climate Analytics study, said: “Institutional assessments have always been opaque about climate outcomes. Our study provides a direct view of the pathways to temperature. Governments should use these tools to perform robust analysis. assessment of the transformation of the energy system to achieve the objectives of the Paris Agreement.”

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