Could society do enough to achieve the goals of this landmark?
To explore the answer to this question we need to go back to the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. We would see that it was built on the back of fossil fuels; first coal and then oil and then natural gas. These provide energy for industrial furnaces, trains, ships, and much more.
Today, nearly every service uses and every product you buy has fossil fuel somewhere in how it is made.
Coal requires little technology and offers a great deal of energy. As such, it is a stubborn and persistent part of the high-CO2 energy system. Dealing with it will take determined action by governments to provide competitive alternatives.
In recent years, renewable energy can be generated efficiently and cost-effectively. Rapid progress with renewable electricity technologies has led some commentators to think about the complete replacement of fossil fuels within the broader energy system.
But despite more than a century of progress, electricity makes up only 20% of the energy that society uses today.
But what if we look even further into the future? In theory and sometime in the 22nd century, all energy sources could start their life on a solar panel.
Electricity could, in theory, be used to make hydrogen via the electrolysis of water and carbon. Combining these could make any hydrocarbon material, from fuels for planes to plastics for consumer goods. Some of these synthetic routes begin to emerge in the second half of the century, but it will take time for these new industries to grow and compete. They don’t exist today, although the chemistry on which they would be built is well understood and used in other ways.
A century is a long time, but perhaps the minimum period required to see a complete evolution of the energy system. Society may eventually achieve a world where everything is renewable, but it is an unlikely outcome for the 21st century alone.