3E Intelligence

Jeremy Bentham and Jeroen Van de Veer presented Shell’s latest scenarios Scramble and Blueprints to Brussels policymakers on 7 April. Their visions for the future look pretty grim although they were not very upfront about it and their plea for big government hand-outs for carbon capture and storage raises a lot of questions.

The scenarios had already been presented during the last annual World Economic Forum and therefore I can refer back to other coverage (NY Times) summarising the main findings of the report. But there are a few issues in the report which have not really been picked up by the traditional press media and therefore I would like to draw attention to them here.

It is commendable that Shell recognises most of the “hard truths” about energy supply and demand. “By 2015, growth in the production of easily accessible oil and gas will not match the projected rate of demand growth. While abundant coal exists in many parts of the world, transportation difficulties and environmental degradation ultimately pose limits to growth“. Admittedly “limits to growth” is not a phrase we hear often from industry circles. Nevertheless, Shell also keeps believing in the myth of “abundant coal” although several reports in the last 15 months have clearly demonstrated that coal reserves have been seriously overestimated (see for outstanding coverage of this “peak coal”, David Strahan’s “The Great Coal Hole“).

Shell makes a clear choice for the “optimistic” “blueprints” scenario which presupposes a level of international cooperation at a level not really seen in the past, so it is questionable whether the “scramble” (each nation for itself) future is not much more probable. By the way, the scramble world could easily become a resource-wars-world when some of the big players would get in real supply problems. The current war in Iraq, the debate about the future role of NATO (which is getting a keen interest in natural resources), and the ongoing militarisation of China are signs on the wall.

Moreover, a closer look at some of the figures in the so-called positive “blueprints” scenario makes me wonder whether the other scenario Sell endorses is really so desirable. The CO2 emissions under this preferable blueprints scenario would still be around 25 gigatonnes per year by 2050 (graph on page 37 of the report), basically still at the same level as we have now, whereas everyone knows that the IPCC has recommended reductions of between 60 and 80% before 2050.

Does this mean Shell believes climate change is inescapable? It surely looks this way and its political message from the report seems to underline this. According to Shell the world will still be addicted to fossil fuels for the next forty years. Coal (for power generation and coal-to-liquids for transport) and non-conventional fossil fuels (tar sands in Canada) are Shell’s solutions for this fossil future. Shell’s “joker”: carbon capture and storage, a technological solution which according to experts will not be full commercially available before 2020 (some think even 5 years later). O, yes, and please Mr Government and dear tax payers, could you subsidise the demonstration plants which will be needed to bring this technology to its maturity? This was the main message of Jeroen van de Veer to the Brussels crowd.

My questions to the Shell speakers about the 25 gigatonnes emissions by 2050 and the possible financial burden for the taxpayers in case of big subsidies for carbon sequestration demonstration plants remained, of course, unanswered.

In conclusion: the two scenarios in Shell’s new report are in reality scenarios of doom and gloom. It might hurt Shell’s business prospects but we need to kick off from our fossil addiction much faster if we want to give our future generations any chance to have a lifestyle comparable to ours. And in this analysis, carbon capture and storage is no more and no less than what methadone is for regular drug addicts. Should we taxpayers really pay big-time for this?

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