Influential Oil Company Scenarios for Combating Climate Change Don’t Actually Meet the Paris Agreement Goals, Our New Analysis Shows

Yves here. Quelle surprise! Oil companies unserious about tackling climate change! But it is useful to see how they game numbers.

By Robert Brecha, Professor of Sustainability, University of Dayton and Gaurav Ganti, Ph.D. Student in Geography, Humboldt University of Berlin. Originally published at The Conversation

Several major oil companies, including BP and Shell, periodically publish scenarios forecasting the future of the energy sector. In recent years, they have added visions for how climate change might be addressed, including scenarios that they claim are consistent with the international Paris climate agreement.

These scenarios are hugely influential. They are used by companies making investment decisions and, importantly, by policymakers as a basis for their decisions.

But are they really compatible with the Paris Agreement?

Many of the future scenarios show continued reliance on fossil fuels. But data gaps and a lack of transparency can make it difficult to compare them with independent scientific assessments, such as the global reviews by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

In a study published Aug. 16, 2022, in Nature Communications, our international team analyzed four of these scenarios and two others by the International Energy Agency using a new method we developed for comparing such energy scenarios head-to-head. We determined that five of them – including frequently cited scenarios from BP, Shell and Equinor – were not consistent with the Paris goals.

What the Paris Agreement Expects

The 2015 Paris Agreement, signed by nearly all countries, sets out a few criteria to meet its objectives.

One is to ensure the global average temperature increase stays well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 F) compared to pre-industrial era levels, and to pursue efforts to keep warming under 1.5°C (2.7 F). The agreement also states that global emissions should peak as soon as possible and reach at least net zero greenhouse gas emissions in the second half of the century. Pathways that meet these objectives show that carbon dioxide emissions should fall even faster, reaching net zero by about 2050.

Scientific evidence shows that overshooting 1.5°C of warming, even temporarily, would have harmful consequences for the global climate. Those consequences are not necessarily reversible, and it’s unclear how well people, ecosystems and economies would be able to adapt.

How the Scenarios Perform

We have been working with the nonprofit science and policy research institute Climate Analytics to better understand the implications of the Paris Agreement for global and nationaldecarbonization pathways – the paths countries can take to cut their greenhouse gas emissions. In particular, we have explored the roles that coal and natural gas can play as the world transitions away from fossil fuels.

When we analyzed the energy companies’ decarbonization scenarios, we found that BP’s, Shell’s and Equinor’s scenarios overshoot the 1.5°C limit of the Paris Agreement by a significant margin, with only BP’s having a greater than 50% chance of subsequently drawing temperatures down to 1.5°C by 2100.

These scenarios also showed higher near-term use of coal and long-term use of gas for electricity production than Paris-compatible scenarios, such as those assessed by the IPCC. Overall, the energy company scenarios also feature higher levels of carbon dioxide emissions than Paris-compatible scenarios.

Of the six scenarios, we determined that only the International Energy Agency’s Net Zero by 2050 scenario sketches out an energy future that is compatible with the 1.5°C Paris Agreement goal.

We found this scenario has a greater than 33% chance of keeping warming from ever exceeding 1.5°C, a 50% chance of having temperatures 1.5°C warmer or less in 2100, and a nearly 90% chance of keeping warming always below 2°C. This is in line with the criteria we use to assess Paris Agreement consistency, and also in line with the approach taken in the IPCC’s Special Report on 1.5°C, which highlights pathways with no or limited overshoot to be 1.5°C compatible.

Getting the Right Picture of Decarbonization

When any group publishes future energy scenarios, it’s useful to have a transparent way to make an apples-to-apples comparison and evaluate the temperature implications. Most of the corporate scenarios, with the exception of Shell’s Sky 1.5 scenario, don’t extend beyond midcentury and focus on carbon dioxide without assessing other greenhouse gases.

Our method uses a transparent procedure to extend each pathway to 2100 and estimate emissions of other gases, which allows us to calculate the temperature outcomes of these scenarios using simple climate models.

Without a consistent basis for comparison, there is a risk that policymakers and businesses will have an inaccurate picture about the pathways available for decarbonizing economies.

Meeting the 1.5°C goal will be challenging. The planet has already warmed about 1.1°C since pre-industrial times, and people are suffering through deadly heat waves, droughts, wildfires and extreme storms linked to climate change. There is little room for false starts and dead-ends as countries transform their energy, agricultural and industrial systems on the way to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. jefemt

    In 4 AM premature wake-up meanderings last night I was pondering some breathless headline along the lines that more people believe in anthropogenic climate change, but there is an increase in the percentage that believe the change is not due to the poll-respondent’s personal habits.

    As oil and energy are the centerpiece of modern human lifestyles and foodstuffs, the disconnect between daily habits, choices, and consequences dazzles me.

    When do we each individually start to effect change? It seems we are dispassionate observer frogs in the pyrex simmering pot– assuming our role is solely as consumer of existing products, lifestyles, and ‘leadership’ by the economic and political Powers That Be. Someone else can ride their bike to work… I am running late, and there are no showers at work.

    I guess with inflation, the power of the pocketbook/checkbook/purse is much diminished in modern era ‘representative democracy’ or ‘republic’ or ‘marketplace’ ?

    My pals are non-plussed by my retrenchment into less activity/ eschewing participation, along with the thinly veiled self-flagellation and self-loathing– for acknowledging I am a part of the problem, and weighted average based on US citizenship, white male, much more than one-eight-billionth…

    I don’t think this is what the commencement speakers intended when they said, YOU can make a DIFFERENCE!

    The New Enlightenment? The New Dark Ages?

    1. NoFreeWill

      responsibility for climate change lies mostly with governments and large corporations who do most of the emitting. stuff like personal auto use is also largely governed by infrastructure decisions (many made in the 40s-60s after huge influence campaigns by oil/carmakers) at the federal level. i would note the blame-shifting from collective/large-scale systems back onto individuals is also the result of a targetted propaganda campaign by large corporations that began in the 70s with the crying indian ads.

      climate change requires collective action to make large-scale shifts at the level of national and global systems (ie. revolution not reform). this means the atomized individual should not figure into our plans and that we must organize collective power

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        The people best positioned and prepared to organize their poolable collective power are the individuals who are doing what they individually can to reduce their individual energy use and carbon emissions.

        When they see that they are doing their personal best within the anti-conservation social-technological matrix they are trapped in, and they see that all their personal bests all added together will not make a global de-warming difference; they will be prepared to organize their collective power to try forcing society to rebuild and rewire this and that into de-warming configurations.

        How will all these individuals doing their personal best and finally admitting that millions of personal bests won’t dewarm the global on their own prepare them to organize collective power?
        They will recognize eachother by their personal behavior and they will know that they can trust eachother to support eachother in the collective power organizing effort. They will also know that they are psychologically and emotionally immune to enemy efforts to call them hypocritical and guilt them into silence for “not doing enough personally” because they will know that they were/are doing all they personally can and that has helped them discover that personal actions will not dewarm the global.

        But they will have to undertake these personal actions in order to prepare themselves to be able to organize for power for these two reasons.

        And millions of individuals doing millions of individual things may be able to inflict localized target pain and damage against certain parts of the enemy along the way.

        1. Solarjay

          Well said woodchuckles.

          The view expressed by NFW is one I see a lot and I just always see it reverse; if my actions don’t matter then I can fly as much as I want and buy food and things flown in, drive all I want, buy all I want because what I do doesn’t matter
          I just think that logic is one that makes wealthier people feel ok about their lifestyle and it allows them to not have to change because it’s not their fault.

          I just don’t buy that logic.

          1. drumlin woodchuckles

            Well . . . there is a level at which it is indeed not their fault, because they did not make the world their social class enemies and betters made over and under and all around them.

            But ” not their fault ” won’t help them fight the final class war of survival or extinction. Doing their little bit might help them to recognize eachother as visible doers of the little bit.
            It might also build up their morale for doing the power-building organizing needed to wage and win the current class war of survival or extinction.

            And a hundred million people all doing a hundred million co-ordinated “little bits”, all focused on the same pain-point, might generate some pain and visible weakness within the system, which would allow an organized class-war-combine of those hundred million to know where to attack in an organized-for-power way.

            Apparently the phrase ” the millenials are ruining everything” may have started when several million millenials felt several million separate individual perceptions of being too poor and also stressed to buy and own a car. That added up to several million cars not bought which the car industry assumed would be bought. And that caused the car business to feel a disturbance in the force.

            So enough little bits have an effect sometimes, if they all happen to focus on the same one pain point.

        2. orlbucfan

          The people best positioned and prepared to organize their poolable collective power are the individuals who are doing what they individually can to reduce their individual energy use and carbon emissions.”
          Excellent comment cos it’s true. I’m living proof of it. I have been following a low carbon footprint my whole adult life (and probably when I was a kid). I’m a lifelong political Futurist. I’m proud of it, too. However, I’m still glad I never had kids.

  2. LawnDart

    Wait, cigarettes don’t cause cancer?

    I guess that we’ll need to start looking hard at the worst-case scenarios to see what the future portends, because it seems to me from what these authors show is that the oil companies are spinning-out a bunch of bullshit for the politicos to feed us.

    Can we possibly expect any less from the West?

  3. John

    Everyone says they want to mitigate climate change, but I see no willingness to make the major and wrenching changes in how the industrialized (fossil fuel using) world now lives that are necessary to accomplish that goal. It looks more and more like a world wide case of NIMBY. The oil companies are engaging in the usual sleight of hand, less egregious than the tobacco companies, but in the end more destructive.

    For example, the push to switch from fossil fuel to electric vehicles. How much oil and gas must be used to produce those vehicles and their batteries? Where is the electricity going to come from to charge them? Assume widespread adoption of electrics in 15 years. Does that slow the rise of temperatures? or sea level? or methane emissions in the arctic? or wild and destructive storms? etc. etc.

    If we want to do as we say, we have to drastically change the way we live. I am not optimistic.

    1. Solarjay

      The savings for EV vs ICE is getting better documented all the time. Even powered by coal it is still better over time.

      What isn’t being documented or at least presented well is plug in hybrid vs EV. Give that most people drive less than 40 miles, PinEV is the far better choice.

      That said, yes not enough movement fast enough to probably make the differences we need in the time frame we need them in.

      1. p fitzsimon

        I own a PEV and almost all my driving is in electric mode. For the occasional longer journey I can go up to 600 miles on a tank of gas (45 mpg). However, the state I live in has stopped offering discounts for PEVs and the feds are pushing BEVs. I’m guessing the reason is that the BEV is the only way to meet the decarbonization goals set by the state and the Biden admin. It’s too late for a PEV transition even though there are few high voltage chargers for non-Tesla BEVs.

    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      I have made some little changes in how I live. But the only drastic changes I will make are the drastic changes which can be weaponised and targeted to hurt my class enemy industries and businesses worse than the pain I endure by making the changes.

  4. p fitzsimon

    One thing that would help, I believe, is if the political and business leadership who are the most urgent prognosticators of climate catastrophe actually changed their own personal behaviour.

Comments are closed.