Forced installation of wind turbines in the face of local opposition and compulsory retirement of fossil fuel assets are among drastic measures taken by governments to propel the world rapidly to net zero emissions under a new future energy scenario released by oil giant Shell.
The actions are among a series of “major interventions” set out in the Sky 2050 scenario – one of two in Shell’s latest crystal ball-gazing which examines the possible impacts on energy systems of a post-Ukraine-invasion world where national interests and global warming fears sit side by side in shaping policy.
Released in the week that the UN's secretary general called for developed economies to accelerate their net zero drives by 10 years, Shell's 'Sky 2050' outlook envisages a rapidly-transforming energy system shaped by concerns over climate security and a political impetus driven by younger citizens.
“What might have taken decades to negotiate now takes much less time as individual nations, cities and companies ‘just go for it!’, with the world reaching net-zero emissions in 2050,” says Shell in its new Energy Security Scenarios report.
But the outcome is reached only with action for which Shell’s futurologists admit “no government today has such a comprehensive mandate, and few, if any, appear willing to seek it at the polls”.
Measures include “the forced retirement of fossil-fuel assets, punitive carbon prices, the rapid introduction and scaling up of early-stage technologies and significant energy conservation through efficiency and even economic austerity. Governments are forced to restrict societal choices, such as limiting the selling of internal combustion engine vehicles and limiting meat consumption.”
The Shell study adds: “They also force through the construction of wind turbines and power lines in places where many citizens do not wish to see them, such as sites of natural beauty.”
Although net zero emission targets are reached by 2050 in this scenario, the global temperature will still increase by more than 1.5°C, with technologies such as direct air capture and carbon storage then used to lower it again by the end of the century.
Shell also outlines a second scenario called Archipelagos, in which national interests loom largest over energy policy, and in which low-carbon energy still scales up, but not at a pace or with the degree of international collaboration that would allow the global community to meet Paris climate goals. Under that vision, average global temperatures are expected to rise to about 2.2°C above pre-industrial times by the end of the century. The concept of net zero emissions would be on the horizon, but not yet achieved.
In both scenarios, renewables led by solar and wind gain ground and fossil fuels decline amid a massive shift to electrification and deployment of new hydrogen-based energy solutions.
Shell stressed that the scenarios are “not predictions, but simply possible outcomes based on data and reactions to energy and climate security” to help outline long-term challenges, and don’t represent its strategy or business plan.
A version of this article first appeared in Upstream