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Shell’s future scenarios – Staring into energy’s black hole

6 July 2008

Shell’s future scenarios – Staring into energy’s black hole

Shell’s “energy scenarios” see fossil fuels remaining a huge part of the energy mix to 2050. But are they realistic? And if Shell is right, what does it mean for the planet’s future?
In the blazing June sunshine of Nogaro racetrack, deep in the south of France, a corporate futurist sharing the same name as the world’s most famous utilitarian philosopher, Jeremy Bentham, was predicting the future of global energy. Meanwhile, outside thousands of students attempted to make home-made carts with tiny engines travel further than 3400 kilometres on just one litre of petrol. 

While the students practised for their race, whizzing up and down outside the conference windows, inside Shell chief executive Jeroen van der Veer was making some rather bleak predictions about the future of the planet. “Energy demand will double between now and 2050,” he told his 200-strong audience of Shell executives, think-tankers, academics and journalists. Between now and 2050, world population is set to grow from six to nine billion people, who will all want access to transport and electricity. This means the era of easy oil and gas is over, according to van der Veer. “We have only seen the beginning” of carbon dioxide emissions problems, he said.

These are the hard truths about the future of energy supply and demand that Shell says the world needs to tackle, somehow, in the next few years. The company believes that there is no way that CO2 concentrations can be stabilised at 450 parts per million (ppm) – a concentration accepted by many as the tipping point towards catastrophic climate change – while providing what van der Veer calls “reasonable welfare” for the planet’s growing population. Even the mass capture and storage of CO2, on land or under the seabed, will not be enough to steady levels of the gas at this critical concentration level, he says. 

The Shell boss, rumoured to be stepping down next year, also has a hard truth for governments. If companies are to have incentives to invest in green technology, international standards on politically sensitive areas such as fuel consumption and buildings insulation will need to be consistent around the globe. 

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