Shell released new scenarios last week that explore two possible futures with dramatically different implications for society and the world’s energy system. One scenario sees cleaner-burning natural gas becoming the most important energy source globally by the 2030s and early action to limit carbon dioxide emissions. The other sees solar becoming the top source by about 2070, but with slower action to address the threat of climate change.
The New Lens Scenarios look at trends in the economy, politics and energy as far ahead as 2100, and underscore the critical role government policies could play in shaping the future.
“These scenarios show how the choices made by governments, businesses and individuals in the next few years will have a major impact on the way the future unfolds,” said Shell CEO Peter Voser. “They highlight the need for business and government to find new ways to collaborate, fostering policies that promote the development and use of cleaner energy, and improve energy efficiency.”
With the world’s population headed toward 9.5 billion by 2060 and the potential of emerging economies to lift millions of people out of poverty for the first time, the scenarios project that world energy demand could double over the next 50 years.
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Called “Mountains” and “Oceans,” Shell’s scenarios explore two plausible future pathways for society. Each scenario dives into the implications for the pace of global economic development, the types of energy we use to power our lives and the growth in greenhouse gas emissions.
The scenarios look further into the future than many other outlooks and highlight some surprising possible developments. Both see global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) dropping to near zero by 2100. One factor is increasing use of technology that takes CO2 out of the atmosphere, for instance by burning biomass to produce electricity, and then storing emissions underground. The Oceans scenario sees a dramatic increase in solar power but also envisions greater fossil fuel use and higher total CO2 emissions over the century than the Mountains scenario, which will likely have more impact on the world’s climate.
The scenarios highlight areas of public policy likely to have the greatest influence on the development of cleaner fuels and renewables, improvements in energy efficiency and moderating greenhouse gas emissions. They include:
- Measures to promote the development of compact, energy-efficient cities, particularly in Asia and other rapidly urbanising parts of the world
- Mandates for greater efficiency in areas such as transportation and buildings
- Policies to encourage the safe development of the world’s abundant supply of cleaner-burning natural gas — and to promote its wider use in power generation, transport and other areas
- A price on CO2 emissions and other incentives to speed the adoption of technologies to manage emissions, particularly carbon capture and storage (CCS)
Shell has a 40-year history of using scenario planning to explore possible future landscapes and aid strategic decision-making. The latest publication continues a tradition of sharing summaries of the scenarios to contribute to the public debate about possible ways to tackle some of society’s long-term challenges.