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Study: Major oil company scenarios for limiting global warming not compatible with Paris Agreement

A University of Dayton researcher helped lead a study published in Nature Communications today showing scenarios by some major oil companies for global reduction in greenhouse gas emissions are incompatible with the Paris Agreement's climate objectives.

"Most of the scenarios we evaluated would be classified as inconsistent with the Paris Agreement's goal of limiting average global temperature rise to 1.5 ̊C above pre-industrial levels," said Bob Brecha, the University of Dayton's director of sustainability who also has been a visiting scientist at Berlin-based Climate Analytics, lead institution for the study. 

The study analyzed six scenarios from BP, Equinor, Royal Dutch Shell and the International Energy Agency published between 2020 and mid-2021. These scenarios are periodically published by companies and  institutions in the energy sector and represent their visions of changes needed in the global energy system to meet Paris Agreement goals. The scenarios are used in the public and private sector and are influential for driving investment. In recent years, scenarios have pivoted to also encompass ambitious pathways to reduce carbon emissions, but have been hard to compare to each other and to similar scenarios devised by the scientific community because of the lack of transparency around their underlying assumptions. 

The researchers aimed to provide this transparency by comparing those scenarios to scenarios assessed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to evaluate peak and end-of-century temperatures. 

"Energy system transformation is critical to reaching the Paris Agreement's warming limit, and decision makers need sound and transparent scientific assessments," Brecha added.

Equinor's "Rebalance" scenario peaks at a median warming of 1.73°C above pre-industrial levels in 2060, BP’s "Rapid" at 1.73°C in 2058, Shell's "Sky" at 1.81°C in 2069, and the International Energy Agency sustainable development scenario at 1.78°C in 2056. BP's Net Zero scenario results in a median peak warming of 1.65°C. Only the IEA Net Zero 2050 scenario aligns with Paris Agreement goals, according to the study. 

Every fraction of a degree matters, the researchers wrote.

"Fossil fuel companies claim that we can continue to burn oil and gas while keeping to the 1.5°C warming limit, and they cite their own scenarios as justification," said Bill Hare, CEO and senior scientist at Climate Analytics. "But our research shows that their pathways would bust the Paris Agreement. Even temporarily exceeding the 1.5°C warming would lead to catastrophic impacts and severely weaken our ability to adapt to climate change."

The study also makes available tools for researchers and policy makers to assess on an equal footing the Paris Agreement claims made for scenarios published by public, commercial and academic institutions.

"Institutional assessments have historically been opaque on climate outcomes. Our study provides a direct line of sight from pathways to temperature," said Matthew Gidden, a research scholar at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria, a scientific adviser at Climate Analytics and a lead author with Brecha on the study. "Governments should use these tools to carry out a robust assessment of the energy-system transformation to meet the Paris Agreement goals." 

Brecha also works in the University of Dayton's Hanley Sustainability Institute and teaches in the School of Engineering's renewable and clean energy graduate program. From 2006 to 2017 he was a regular visiting scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. Since 2018 he has been affiliated with Climate Analytics, including a two-year European Union Marie Curie Fellowship to research sustainable energy access and system transformation in least-developed countries and small island developing states.

For interviews with Brecha, contact Shawn Robinson, University of Dayton associate director of news and communications, at For questions regarding Climate Analytics' work, contact Holly Simpkin (based in Berlin, Germany) at


News and Communications Staff