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Big Oil Starts to Scenarize About Climate Change
Alex Steffen, 26 Jan 08

Part of an interesting letter from Royal Dutch Shell CEO Jeroen van der Veer:

By 2100, the world’s energy system will be radically different from today’s. Renewable energy like solar, wind, hydroelectricity, and biofuels will make up a large share of the energy mix, and nuclear energy, too, will have a place. Humans will have found ways of dealing with air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. New technologies will have reduced the amount of energy needed to power buildings and vehicles.

Indeed, the distant future looks bright, but much depends on how we get there. There are two possible routes. Let’s call the first scenario Scramble. Like an off-road rally through a mountainous desert, it promises excitement and fierce competition. However, the unintended consequence of “more haste” will often be “less speed,” and many will crash along the way.

The alternative scenario can be called Blueprints, which resembles a cautious ride, with some false starts, on a road that is still under construction. Whether we arrive safely at our destination depends on the discipline of the drivers and the ingenuity of all those involved in the construction effort. Technological innovation provides the excitement.

Regardless of which route we choose, the world’s current predicament limits our room to maneuver. We are experiencing a step-change in the growth rate of energy demand due to rising population and economic development. After 2015, easily accessible supplies of oil and gas probably will no longer keep up with demand.

As a result, we will have no choice but to add other sources of energy – renewables, yes, but also more nuclear power and unconventional fossil fuels such as oil sands. Using more energy inevitably means emitting more CO2 at a time when climate change has become a critical global issue.

In the Scramble scenario, nations rush to secure energy resources for themselves, fearing that energy security is a zero-sum game, with clear winners and losers. The use of local coal and homegrown biofuels increases fast. Taking the path of least resistance, policymakers pay little attention to curbing energy consumption – until supplies run short. Likewise, despite much rhetoric, greenhouse gas emissions are not seriously addressed until major shocks trigger political reactions. Since these responses are overdue, they are severe and lead to energy price spikes and volatility.

The Blueprints scenario is less painful, even if the start is more disorderly. Numerous coalitions emerge to take on the challenges of economic development, energy security, and environmental pollution through cross-border cooperation. Much innovation occurs at the local level, as major cities develop links with industry to reduce local emissions. National governments introduce efficiency standards, taxes, and other policy instruments to improve the environmental performance of buildings, vehicles, and transport fuels.

Moreover, as calls for harmonization increase, policies converge across the globe. Cap-and-trade mechanisms that put a price on industrial CO2 emissions gain international acceptance. Rising CO2 prices in turn accelerate innovation, spawning breakthroughs. A growing number of cars are powered by electricity and hydrogen, while industrial facilities are fitted with technology to capture CO2 and store it underground.

Against the backdrop of these two equally plausible scenarios, we will know only in a few years whether December’s Bali declaration on climate change was just rhetoric or the start of a global effort to counter it. Much will depend on how attitudes evolve in China, the European Union, India, and the United States.

Shell traditionally uses its scenarios to prepare for the future without expressing a preference for one over another. But, faced with the need to manage climate risk for our investors and our descendants, we believe the Blueprints outcomes provide the best balance between economy, energy, and environment.

Presented without comment.

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Comments

Wow. Powerful stuff. Wouldn't it be amazing to see the detailed scenario work behind this letter?


Posted by: Jon Stahl on 26 Jan 08

More electric cars? Not. Better cars just mean more sprawl. We need to dismantle sprawl and give the suburbs to the organic farmers.


Posted by: socialscientist on 27 Jan 08

Public summaries of previous scenario work at Shell can be found at this site The new ones are in the making.


Posted by: Rene on 28 Jan 08

Biofuels are a non-starter for a number of reasons:
Larger carbon footprint to produce and I suspect that people will not be willing to sacrafice their food supply to scrape the last bit of energy out of a arid mid-west.
And capturing and storing C02 undergraound is a "fairy-tale" without any backing in science. No suprise that a petroleum CEO is touting a fairy-tale. They have been doing it for decades.


Posted by: Kerry Milford on 8 Feb 08



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