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Paris Agreement: Achieving the Balance

The Paris Agreement calls for a “balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of the century.”This emphasis on “a balance” – or what is also referred to as “net-zero emissions” in the case of the energy system – is a critical development.

It recognizes that surface temperature warming is directly related to the cumulative total of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted to the atmosphere.

As climate change is a key issue to deal with and it is a cumulative problem, there is a need for the energy system to get to net-zero emissions to bring a halt to the rising level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. However, the time period society has to achieve this is less than it will take to find and/or scale up alternatives for all energy services, goods and products for 7.5 billion people that are currently provided by fossil fuels.

In other words, society needs to fill an important gap between when we need to get to net-zero emissions and when we can actually get to zero emissions. The former is around 2070 to meet the goal of the Paris Agreement, whereas the latter may not be until sometime in the 22nd century.

That gap will be filled by “sinks”, which includes;

  • Geological storage of CO2 with carbon capture and storage (CCS);
  • Increasing the carbon stock in products held by society (i.e. carbon capture and use or CCU);
  • Increasing the carbon uptake of the biosphere through land management practices such as reforestation.

CCS and CCU will include;

  • Direct capture and storage applied in large point source emitting facilities such as cement plants and smelters;
  • Energy facilities operating with a sustainably produced biomass feedstock resulting in net removal of CO2 from the atmosphere when capture and geological storage is applied;
  • The production of various products, such as plastics, from fossil fuels or biomass.

All of the above feature in the new Shell scenario, Sky – but sharing the understanding of how they fit into the energy system and what can be achieved was one of the communication challenges behind the Sky scenario publication that was recently released.

Sky reaches net-zero emissions in the energy system by 2070, resulting in stabilisation of atmospheric CO2 and a limit on warming of around 1.75°C in 2100, or well below 2°C as called for by the Paris Agreement. By the time 2070 is reached, the global power generation system is largely renewables and nuclear, but fossil fuel use in certain modes of transport and heavy industry remains significant, albeit declining. The remaining fossil fuel emissions must be dealt with to achieve the goal of net-zero emissions.

To help scenario readers understand the change and see how emissions are managed, we developed a chart that illustrated the carbon flows in Sky as time went by. The sequence starts in 2020 and includes visual elements to help the reader understand what is going on. For starters, we used strata to show;

  • The upper lithosphere where fossil fuels are found;
  • Surface based energy activities;
  • The atmosphere.

Legend for Balances

Balance 2020

In the 2020 illustration above, fossil fuel production results in 35.2 Gt of CO2 emissions, from a potential of 37.8 Gt based on actual extraction. The materials produced include bitumen for roads and petrochemicals that don’t end up as energy products (e.g. combustion of plastic waste). The biofuel energy system is also shown, which results in a loop as CO2 is absorbed by plants, then released again as the biofuel is manufactured and finally used for energy. At this stage there is no real interaction between the systems.

Balance 2050

By 2050, the scene is very different. CCS has emerged at scale, both directly in fossil fuel applications such as industrial facilities using natural gas in furnaces and indirectly in the bio-energy system, where geologically stored carbon amounts to permanent removal of CO2 from the atmosphere. By 2050, BECCS (bioenergy with CCS) has also emerged at scale – this is the use of biomass for energy service provision, although principally for the generation of electricity, but linked with CCS.

BECCS is illustrated in the diagram below and is a technology that exists in parts today but hardly as a whole. For example, biomass is used to make ethanol (corn and sugarcane) at large scale in both the USA and Brazil and is a major energy source (woodchips) for the power generation sector in Sweden. CCS also functions at some forty sites around the world, but the combination of bioenergy with CCS is very limited.

One such example is the Arthur Daniels Midland ethanol plant in Illinois, USA which stores one million tonnes per year of CO2. As this CO2 is from the ethanol process itself, it is, in effect, drawdown of CO2 from the atmosphere.

By 2070 the energy system has reached net-zero emissions, primarily through a scale-up of the bioenergy with CCS sector when compared with 2050.

Balance 2070

Finally, by 2100, the energy system is net-negative, drawing 6.4 Gt of CO2 per year from the atmosphere. Fossil fuel use has declined further to 13.7 Gt equivalent of CO2, but this is all captured through one of the mechanisms discussed above.

Balance 2100

As BECCS does not exist at scale today, there are always questions about this pathway forward. However, bioenergy does exist at scale and CCS has been demonstrated many times at scale in early projects, so the combination of the two is entirely plausible. A competing future technology for drawdown of CO2 from the atmosphere is direct air capture linked with CCS (DACCS), but this doesn’t exist today other than at pilot plant size.

Experience has shown that the time taken for energy and energy related technologies to move from pilot plant to meaningful commercial scale (i.e. >1% of system size, so in the case of DACCS, >200 big installations around the world) is measured in decades rather than years. For this reason, the drawdown pathway selected in Sky utilized BECCS rather than DACCS, but the latter should not be ruled out from future consideration.

Original Post

David Hone's picture

Thank David for the Post!

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Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on Apr 12, 2018 12:26 pm GMT


Your article is about fossil fuel CO2eq, but that was only about 36.183/53.4 = 68% of all manmade sources, in 2016.

Much of current efforts to reduce emissions have been energy-related, as in Germany, which has had the same CO2eq emissions during the 2009 – 2017 period, while charging about 225 billion euros to household electric bills during these 9 years, because it is closing nuclear plants and using about the same quantity of coal each year.

The reduction of emissions not energy-related is the more difficult and the more expensive part, as it likely would involve significant lifestyle changes and population reduction policies.

Most of Europe, Japan and Russia already are at near-zero population growth. China and India and a few other countries need to stop their population growth.

1) The world CO2eq, all sources, including Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF), are on a “business as usual” trajectory to become about 64.7 b Mt by 2030. If so, the increase above pre-industrial would be about 4.3 C by 2100.

There has been a reduction in the rate of increase of emissions during the past few years. The IPCC BAU CO2eq projection for 2030 is based on a higher CO2eq growth rate than the actual growth rates in 2015 and 2016. However, the IEA reported a 1.4% increase in energy related CO2eq for 2017. See URL.

World investments in RE systems have averaged about $280 b/y for the 2011 – 2016 period (6 years). That level likely would lead to CO2eq emissions of about 64.7 b Mt by 2030. China has spent about $80 b/y during the past 3 years to finally deal with its horrendous pollution problems.

2) The world CO2eq emissions, all sources, would be about 58.9 b Mt by 2030, with full implementation of all policies and pledges made prior to COP21. If so, the increase would be about 3.7 C by 2100. Investments of at least $600 b/y, starting immediately, would be required to achieve the IPCC trajectory of 58.9 b Mt by 2030. See note 1.

3) The world CO2eq emissions, all sources, would be about 55.2 b Mt by 2030, with full implementation of UNCONDITIONAL COP21 pledges by 2030, per IPCC. If so, the increase would be about 3.2 C by 2100.

4) The world CO2eq emissions, all sources, would be about 52.8 b Mt by 2030, with full implementation of CONDITIONAL COP21 pledges by 2030. If so, the increase would be about 3.0 C by 2100.

5) The world CO2eq emissions, all sources, would be about 41.8 b Mt by 2030, with an ADDITIONAL 52.8 – 41.8 = 11.0 b Mt of CO2eq emissions reduction by 2030. If so, the increase would be about 2.0 C by 2100. That additional reduction is not trivial, as it is equivalent to about 11 times the total annual emissions of the entire EU28 transportation sector.

6) The world CO2eq emissions, all sources, would be about 36.5 b Mt by 2030, with an ADDITIONAL 52.8 – 36.5 = 16.3 b Mt of CO2eq emissions reduction by 2030. If so, the increase would be about 1.5 C by 2100. Investments of at least $1.5 trillion/y, starting immediately, would be required to achieve the IPCC trajectory of 36.5 b Mt by 2030.

NOTE 1: Item 2 is a big if, because since COP1 (Kyoto-1990), all major developed nations have failed to fully implement all policies and pledges to decrease CO2eq emissions.

NOTE 2: The US had pledged a CO2eq reduction of about 1 b Mt from 2015 – 2015. However, due to the US withdrawal from COP21, that reduction may be less, which means other nations would have to make up the difference, not only regarding emission reduction, but, more importantly, also regarding the scheduled US contribution to the Green Climate Fund of about $25 b in 2020, and much greater annual amounts thereafter. China and India, major polluters and claiming “developing nation status”, would not pay a dime.

Sequestration of CO2 on a Massive Scale: The IPCC assumes emission reductions for each year after 2030, to ultimately achieve:

– ZERO emissions by about 2080 to achieve 1.5 C by 2100
– ZERO emissions by about 2100 to achieve 2.0 C by 2100

This would require sequestration of CO2 on a huge scale. Wherever sequestration demonstration plants were built during the past 15 years, all ended up as expensive failures.

NOTE: “This is a miracle scenario of the IPCC, in which the climate models reach 1.5 C. The scenario assumes that carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, which stores carbon dioxide in large quantities underground, is to be used on a large scale. But this would be far too expensive. The scenario is based on self-delusion.”

David Hone's picture
David Hone on Apr 12, 2018 11:24 pm GMT

Willem, the Sky scenario addresses all emissions, but indeed, the above is just the energy system. We also include the following;
1. Net zero deforestation by 2070
2. CCS applied in the cement sector.
3. A sharp reduction in other GHGs, although short lived GHGs (like methane) do not need to get to net zero as the balancing component for them is dissociation in the atmosphere to CO2 over time.

All the above is discussed in the Sky publication which is available online. Thanks for your commentary.

Jarmo Mikkonen's picture
Jarmo Mikkonen on Apr 13, 2018 12:46 pm GMT

UN report last year said that Paris Agreement published climate commitments are about 1/3 of what is needed for Paris Agreement goals.

Never mind that we are going to have 2 billion more people in less than 50 years and get electricity for a couple of billion people who do not have it currently.

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on Apr 13, 2018 2:05 pm GMT


The Sky entity saying what measures are necessary and not providing a capital estimate, $trillion per year for many years, is not acceptable.

Current spending on RE is about $250 to 275 billion/y, which is grossly inadequate to bend the CO2eq curve downwards, and accommodate economic growth and population growth. See URL.

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