Add a touch of reality, and there is no place for Norwegian gas in a 2°C world.
Fossil fuel companies, and governments that benefit from fossil fuel extraction, often talk of a rosy future for fossil fuels. The International Energy Agency (IEA) is often used to support such arguments, but the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have a much more nuanced interpretation.
The IEA uses one model, three scenarios, and end their analysis in 2040. In reality, the future of fossil fuels today depends on what happens after 2040.
The IPCC uses 31 models to generate 1184 scenarios that run to 2100. The greater diversity in the IPCC allows a more complete analysis of the future of fossil fuels.
The future of fossil fuels depend on a few critical assumptions.
The IEA and IPCC both use stylised models of the global energy system. In these stylised models, the 2009 Copenhagen climate negotiations led to a strong global climate agreement, Stoltenberg’s moonlanding initiated a rapid global expansion of carbon capture and storage, and fossil fuel companies have initiated a rapid downscaling of operations.
In stylised models, it possible to invent new technologies. “Negative emission” technologies, most notably carbon-neutral bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, effectively undo our past use of fossil fuels by removing the previously emitted carbon from the atmosphere.
Using stylised models, there is a future role for fossil fuels, albeit a limited one. The cost-effective scenarios consistent with a 2°C world suggest that there would be a 90% reduction in fossil fuel use by 2100 compared to business as usual. That includes a 75% reduction in the use of gas.
Now, to the real world: the Copenhagen climate negotiations failed, the moonlanding didn’t happen, fossil fuel companies are expanding operations, and negative emissions don’t exist.
Implementing more realistic representations of the world into the models, something the IPCC has done, describes a very different future for fossil fuels. The most critical assumption for fossil fuels is the existence of negative emissions.
Negative emissions serve two purposes. The first is to offset hard to mitigation emissions, such as methane from rice paddies. The second is to offset emissions that have already occurred, and this is why the technology is so important for the future of fossil fuels.
In the IPCC, nearly all scenarios consistent with 2°C use negative emissions extensively towards the end of the century. These negative emissions are required even with a 90% reduction in fossil fuel use.
Without these negative emissions, fossil fuel use must be phased out rapidly, in many cases by mid-century.
Dropping the 2°C target, perhaps for 3°C, provides limited relief. Climate stabilisation requires zero net emissions. Without extensive negative emissions, the future global energy system depends almost entirely on carbon-neutral bioenergy, solar, nuclear and wind power.
Betting on using Norwegian gas in 2°C world requires betting on wide-spread deployment of technologies that remove carbon from the atmosphere, or hoping for dropping the 2°C target.
Stopping the analysis in 2040 as in the IEA is good for the future of fossil fuels. Assuming large-scale use of negative emissions as in the IPCC is good for fossil fuels. Using more realistic real-world constraints means there is little room for fossil fuels beyond about 2050.
We simply can’t have it all. Not even Norwegian gas.