Cement and concrete industry’s emissions ‘have doubled in 20 years’

The global cement industry’s carbon dioxide emissions were twice as high in 2021 as in 2002, new data has shown, as nations face calls to scale up low-carbon cement and concrete production by increasing demand from the public sector.

Cement and concrete industry’s emissions ‘have doubled in 20 years’

The new data was published by Robbie Andrew, an emissions scientist working for the Global Carbon Project and for the CICERO Centre for International Climate Research in Norway. That dataset accounts for emissions resulting from the chemical and industrial processes used to manufacture cement and related products.

According to this analysis, these emissions totalled 2.6 billion metric tonnes in 2021, up from 1.2 billion metric tonnes in 2002. This is equivalent to around 7% of global annual emissions in 2021.

Andrew’s data notably shows that cement emissions did not drop during Covid-19-related lockdowns in 2020 and 2021. The rate of increase over the past two years has been less steep, but the sector’s climate impact did not dip in the same way that many other industries recorded.

The growth of the sector’s overall emissions can be attributed to its physical and financial growth. Global cement production has increased significantly in the past 20 years, with the sharpest expansion recorded in China. China now accounts for around half of global production.

But separate data, from the International Energy Agency (IEA) last year revealed that the carbon intensity of cement production – the average emission generated per tonne of product manufactured – is also rising. The carbon intensity of cement, by the IEA’s calculations, was 9.3% higher in 2020 than in 2015.

The IEA attributes this trend to the fact that much production occurs in China, which still relies heavily on coal. But it noted that the transition to lower-emission chemical processes for clinker production and lower-emission heating was too slow globally. Other key cement producers include the US, India, Vietnam and Turkey. The sector will need to reduce emissions intensity as demand for its products increases due to urbanisation.

Accelerating the low-carbon transition for cement, industry body the Global Cement and Concrete Association (GCCA) has stated, will require the adoption of a blend of new processes and technologies, as the sector is hard to abate. The Association’s roadmap for addressing the sector’s climate impact involves improving energy and material efficiencies, implementing innovative clinker production methods, adopting low-carbon fuels, electrifying processes and using carbon capture.

Carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS) should, the Association estimates, be able to address 36% of the global sector’s carbon dioxide emissions in 2050. Association member companies have committed to bringing at least ten commercial-scale CCUS units online by the end of the decade.

Public procurement possibilities

Andrew’s data has received widespread national and international media attention in the same week that the Mission Possible Partnership on cement, spearheaded by the GCCA, World Economic Forum and Boston Consulting Group, has released a major new report.

Editor’s note: The Mission Possible Partnership bears no relation to edie’s Mission Possible campaign. That campaign is still ongoing and you can find out more about it, here.

The report assesses how national governments, by changing building codes to ensure that low-carbon cement and concrete is procured for publicly-funded infrastructure projects, can incentivise manufacturers to decarbonise and encourage private investment in the sector’s low-carbon transition.

Case studies from the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, France, the UK and the US are used in the report, with the Partnership stating that they are already showing leadership in the procurement of low-carbon concrete and specification of low-carbon construction methods for nationally significant infrastructure projects. But the report emphasises that this kind of approach will need to be implemented in emerging and developing nations as a priority, as this is where much of the coming growth in demand for concrete and cement will come from.

“The demand signals in the market for green industrial products are among the most important opportunities to accelerate the path to net-zero across industrial sectors,” said the Mission Possible Partnership’s chief executive Matt Rogers.

“For material sectors like cement and concrete, government procurement practices will play an especially important role…. Insights like [those in this report] provide the government procurement professionals practical tools and technical insights that they can use today to create demand-pull for the most innovative low carbon cement and concrete offerings in the market.”

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