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‘Mission possible’: the energy sector’s role in helping the world achieve the Paris Climate Agreement goals

Release date:
29 September 2021
What role can the energy industry play in helping governments meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, signed six years ago? bp chief economist Spencer Dale talks through the options in a Reuters Live Twitter broadcast
🕒 23 min watch| 🎥 Video| 💡 Why it matters

In conversation with Reuters’ Chloe Tilley, Spencer Dale, bp’s chief economist since 2014 says getting to Paris means that the energy sector must make changes – improving energy efficiency and shifting towards lower or zero-carbon fuels.  


Decarbonizing electricity

“A key point here is decarbonizing the electricity that we use,” says Spencer. “That means massive growth in wind and solar power so that we’re generating zero-carbon electricity. Once we’ve decarbonized the power sector, we will then try to electrify everything we possibly can; the cars and trucks that we use, the way we heat our homes.”  


Given that we can’t electrify all energy uses – such as transatlantic flights – there’s a pressing need for thinking beyond electricity. 


Hard-to-abate sectors 

That’s where hydrogen is shaping up to be a gamechanger in driving Paris consistency, whether through wind and solar power to produce green hydrogen, or blue hydrogen produced with natural gas.


“The hype surrounding hydrogen is justified if the world is serious about getting to net zero,” says Spencer, particularly for hard-to-electrify sectors where hydrogen can help to decarbonize.


“In a rough calculation, something in the order of two-thirds of energy used today can be electrified, but that means a third can’t. And hydrogen, together with bioenergy, can play a key role in providing energy sources for that other third,” says Spencer.  

💡 Why it matters

There is no one single solution to achieving the Paris goals. Indeed, it will be multi-sector, multi-stakeholder and multi-faceted. That’s why it requires all sectors of society to work together to reach these goals.  

And it will not happen overnight – it will be a multi-decade transition, bringing the right solutions to bear. 

Natural gas is also vital to achieving the net-zero future, says Spencer. According to bp’s Statistical Review of World Energy 2020, the share of gas in primary energy continued to rise last year, reaching a record high of 24.7%  ̶  despite overall carbon emissions falling 6% due to the pandemic.  

In parts of Asia, many economies remain highly dependent on coal to produce their electricity. As rising prosperity lifts people out of low incomes to middle incomes, that is boosting demand for energy. Some of that demand can be met by growing wind and solar, but even if it grew as quickly as possible, it would not be sufficiently quick to meet the new energy demand and also replace the existing levels of coal.  


“For the next 10 or 15 years, there’s a substantial role for natural gas, alongside wind and solar, to help decarbonize some of those energy sectors at pace.”


Spencer Dale, bp chief economist


Climate mitigation technologies, such as carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS), in which carbon is captured when it’s emitted and then stored safely underground, and direct air capture, where carbon emissions are sucked from the atmosphere, will be important partners to gas in the drive to net zero, he says.  

There’s also a critical role for greening companies in this transformation. In order to achieve the energy transition, the world can’t just rely on companies that are already green. A successful transition will also require the scale and engineering know-how of large existing companies that are working hard to become greener. 

“That means finding ways in which we encourage those mainstream companies to become increasingly green over time,” says Spencer. 


Promise of COP26 

The success of the forthcoming COP26 is critical to increasing momentum towards the Paris climate goals and net zero.

Despite the many challenges, this should not be a counsel of despair, says Spencer. Achieving Paris, he believes, is still a ‘mission possible’. 

“The world knows what to do. We know how to decarbonize the power sector with wind and solar. We know how to electrify cars and trucks. We know how to shift away from using oil or gas in buildings, and we know how to produce clean hydrogen,” he says. 

What is needed, then, is collective will to adopt these new technologies at a pace and scale necessary to bring down carbon emissions, with governments and the private sector playing their parts in helping to achieve the stated targets. 

bp in action 

At bp, we are in action towards meeting our near-term targets and aims for 2030. So far, we have: 

  • Reduced the emissions associated with the carbon in our upstream oil and gas production by 9% since 2019 and aim for 35-40% by 2030. 
  • Reduced operational emissions by 16% from 2019 and aim for a 30-35% cut by 2035. 
  • Developed 21GW of low carbon energy towards our target of 50GW. 
  • 30,000b/d of bioenergy in production towards our target of 100,000b/d.
  • Seven planned hydrogen hubs and aim to capture a 10% share of core hydrogen markets by 2030. 

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