If nothing is done, the planet could be 6 to 7°C warmer by the end of the century than in the pre-industrial era, according to the 6th assessment report of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).
The IPCC is working towards carbon neutrality, i.e. a balance between residual emissions and absorptions of carbon in the atmosphere, by just after the middle of the 21st century.
Despite growing political consensus around the issue, carbon neutrality remains difficult to achieve. Patrick Criqui, former IPCC member and French expert on energy and climate change, shares his vision for achieving zero carbon by 2050.
Is zero carbon by 2050 a realistic ambition on a global scale?
What is striking is the extreme diversity of countries’ situations. From India to the US to Europe, there are several possible international strategies to achieve neutrality globally. But that doesn’t make it easy! There is a joint overall target that entails getting below two tonnes of CO2 equivalent per capita per year, but the scenarios for achieving this target need to be identified for each country.
What kinds of scenarios are being considered and what policies should be used?
For France, the 2013 National Debate on Energy Transition identified four archetypal scenarios, which still apply today: a scenario based on severe frugality, another focusing on energy efficiency, yet another on diversifying energy technologies and finally a scenario based on the use of nuclear energy. These archetypes are broadly reflected in the 2019 IPCC 1.5°C Report.
In Europe, there are several possible economic and political strategies: either we keep a variety of energy policies or we move towards convergence in the different member states. A convergent and open energy system would probably be the ideal solution, at least economically. But it might not be the most likely scenario.
A strategy of converging policies, but with energy systems still separated, would lead to a loss of synergy and therefore of efficiency. In a scenario where there is neither policy convergence nor open systems, there would be a patchwork of solutions, probably highly ineffective.
The last scenario, perhaps not the best economic performance one, but the most likely from a political perspective, is what I would call an unintended equilibrium scenario, i.e. where each state keeps its national strategy, but which could eventually result in a relatively balanced situation at the European level. The recent energy agreement between France and Germany, which is somewhat counter-intuitive as France is to supply gas and Germany electricity, is a good illustration of the unintended match or balance hypothesis.
How could we speed up this equilibrium scenario?
Challenges that are genuinely shared by all countries must be defined at European level. We can already easily see the issue of intelligent and zero-carbon buildings in new builds, but also in the refurbishment of existing structures, as well as the development of electric or hydrogen vehicles and recharging facilities.
The promotion of the circular economy in industry, with the clear motto of the three Rs – reduce, reuse and recycle – is another shared theme across countries.
The same goes for green hydrogen generated either from renewables or even from nuclear power. This raises the question of hydrogen networks, and the issue of an import policy in Europe. Our German neighbours are considering very large imports of hydrogen, for example from North Africa.
We can therefore see that the combination of challenges and joint projects is possible in Europe. And I believe that the more actively and effectively we tackle these various challenges, the better and faster Europe’s energy and climate transition will be.
What approaches can Bouygues Energies & Services take to help achieve carbon neutrality?
I see three relevant areas for Bouygues Energies Services: electric or hydrogen vehicles, very low-energy buildings and carbon capture, storage and use.
For example, 60% of new vehicles worldwide should be electric by 2035. Similarly, some 50% of trucks and heavy vehicles are expected to switch to electricity or hydrogen.
By 2040, 50% of buildings currently in existence should have been extensively refurbished to a very low energy, very low emission standard.
Carbon capture, storage and use is still in the R&D phase for now, but according to the IPCC and the International Energy Agency, it is a quite unavoidable solution to achieve the decarbonisation of our industries and regions.