Shell makes climate pitch as UN targets zero carbon planet

Oil giant tells hostile delegates at Lima talks it can be part of a solution to global warming


By Megan Darby in Lima

The role of fossil fuel lobbyists at UN climate talks came under fire on Monday, as activists mobbed a side event in Lima.

In T-shirts emblazoned with “Get the FF out”, protesters descended on a panel discussion held by the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute.

Speakers had to fight their way through the throng, replete with TV cameras, to get to their seats – although the crowd quickly dispersed when the event started.

In it, Shell adviser David Hone set out two projections of future energy use, both of which entailed levels of warming scientists consider dangerous.

Negotiators are aiming to limit global temperature rise to 2C, a goal the International Energy Agency sees as attainable.

In line with that, they are seriously considering a target of zero net emissions by 2050. That means any remaining emissions from fossil fuels will have to be buried or offset with strategies like large scale tree planting.

Unlike other fossil fuel majors, Shell has signed up to the Trillion Tonne Communique, a statement recognising the need to curb emissions.

Yet its vision of the future, which assumes rising energy demand as well as greater energy efficiency and use of clean energy, leads to 2.5-3C of warming.

Hone told RTCC: “2C is possible from an engineering perspective, but our scenarios are based on society and political developments as well.”

Indeed, analysts at Climate Action Tracker calculated the latest commitments from the European Union, US and China put likely warming at 2.9-3.1C.

That is less than the previous trajectory but does not hit the target.

Campaigners say companies like Shell should be barred from the UN talks, because their interest in promoting fuel consumption conflicts with efforts to slash greenhouse gas emissions.

An audience member challenged Hone to explain Shell’s membership of the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec), a lobby group with a reputation for denying climate science. Microsoft, Facebook and Google have all quit the group.

“We value the opportunities that Alec offers so we can talk to state legislators,” said Hone, but insisted: “We don’t promulgate their message on climate change.”

With CCS, fossil fuel companies argue they can be part of the solution.

Leading climate economist Nicholas Stern endorsed a strong role for CCS in cutting emissions, saying thousands of plants would be needed by 2050.

That is also supported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which found decarbonising the economy would cost more than twice as much without CCS.

In the long run, there are high hopes for bioenergy with CCS, which can in theory result in negative emissions. Carbon dioxide absorbed by plants will end up back underground.

Stern said measures like this would be needed to offset emissions that could not be eliminated, for example methane from cattle.

CCS expert Heleen de Coninck, from Radbound University, warned against placing too much faith in the technology.

The first CCS project on a coal-fired power plant, Canada’s Boundary Dam, went live in October, after decades of industry research and lobbying.

“It is not going fast enough and that is worrying,” said de Coninck.

Even if it does take off, there are limits on the volume of storage sites, she added. CCS on energy intensive industry like steel and cement, for which there are few alternatives to fossil fuels, should take priority.

“It is very important to never see CCS as an alternative to demand reduction and renewable energy.”

At a separate press conference, IPCC contributing author Malte Meinhausen stressed the need to phase out emissions.

“At some point emissions have to go to zero, no matter what,” he said. “Even at higher or lower temp levels there is no way around zero CO2 levels.”

International climate policy expert Farhana Yamin told RTCC countries were unlikely to oppose a 2050 zero emissions target for fear of being labelled “science deniers”.

Sweden, Norway, Costa Rica, Bhutan and the Marshall islands have been among the most vocal advocates for such a goal.

French president Francois Holland, who will host next year’s climate conference, and UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon have also called for long term ambition.

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