Can future needs be met sustainably?

Date and Time


MacN 113



Professor Sir Chris Llewellyn Smith, FRS 


Global energy consumption is increasing rapidly, driven by rising living standards in developing countries. The energy provided by burning fossil fuels (which still accounts for some 80% of the total) is also growing, albeit not quite so fast. This is unsustainable. Decarbonisation is imperative: to reduce air pollution, rebalance relations between oil producing and importing countries, and moderate climate change. However, scenarios that meet the International Panel on Climate Change’s goal of net-zero emissions in the second half of the century all involve heroic technical, economic and political assumptions.

I will focus on ‘stubborn’ (especially hard to decarbonise) sectors, which include heat (in industry and buildings), aviation and shipping. Further electrification plays a key role in all low carbon scenarios. The rapid fall in the cost of wind and solar power provides grounds for optimism, but integrating them with other sources will produce new challenges and costs. While examining the global outlook and commenting on the situation in Canada, I will illustrate some of the changes that total decarbonisation will require in the case of the UK,  which looks set to adopted the world’s strongest legally binding target of reaching net zero emissions by 2050.


Chris Llewellyn Smith is a theoretical physicist. He is currently interested in all aspects of energy supply and demand. Chris has inter alia served as Director of Energy Research, Oxford University (2011-17), President of the Council of SESAME - Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East (2008-11), Chair of the Council of the world fusion project ITER (2007-09), and Director General of CERN (1994-1998, when the Large Hadron Collider was approved and construction started).  He has written and spoken widely on science funding, international scientific collaboration and energy issues, and served on many advisory bodies nationally and internationally, including the UK Prime Minister’s Advisory Council on Science and Technology (1989-92). His contributions to theoretical particle physics and leadership have been recognised by awards and honours world-wide, including most recently the American Association for Advancement of Science’s 2019 award for Science Diplomacy and an Honorary DSc from the University of Guelph.

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