Concrete commitment: Cement industry sets 2030 climate goals on road to net-zero by 2050

The cement and concrete sector accounts for around 7% of annual global emissions

The new 2030 commitments are part of a roadmap published today (12 October) by the Global Cement and Concrete Association (GCCA), a trade body representing 40+ companies that account for 80% of global production outside of China. Members include Cemex, Holcim and HeidelbergCement.

Building on the formation of the Association’s Concrete Action for Climate initiative earlier this year – a scheme aimed at enabling the transition to carbon-neutral products by 2050 – the roadmap outlines which solutions will be used to mitigate emissions, and the timelines to which they will be implemented.

The roadmap states that more than one-third (36%) of emissions generated by the sector in 2050 will be addressed using carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) technologies.

Association members have collectively committed to bringing 10 industrial-scale CCUS arrays online this decade. The report states that  “it is critical that in this decade we bring forward the required breakthrough technologies to be ready for commercial-scale deployment by the end of it”.

A further 22% of emissions can be mitigated through efficiency improvements in design and construction, the roadmap states, with efficiency improvements in production delivering savings of a further 11%. Another 11% of emissions can be addressed by innovating clinker production, improving efficiency and transitioning to low-carbon fuels like waste-derived options and low-carbon hydrogen.

The remaining 20% of emissions could be mitigated through a combination of renewable electricity procurement and electrification, substituting Portland clinker cement and through insetting – using concrete as a carbon sink.

Looking at the likely timelines for implementing these solutions, the report states that the industry will be able to reduce the emissions intensity of concrete by 25% and cement by 20% by 2030. Both targets have a 2020 baseline and intensity will be measured in terms of emissions generated per tonne of product manufactured. Emissions will be accounted for across the life cycle.

The GCCA claims the 2030 and 2050 targets are aligned with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C trajectory. This is despite the fact that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) landmark report in 2018 stated that global emissions must be halved by 2030 to give the best chance of limiting the temperature increase in this manner. However, cement and concrete are harder-to-abate than many other sectors, which could deliver reductions above 50% this decade.

“I am proud of the commitment made by our members today to take decisive action and accelerate industry decarbonization between now and 2030, an important milestone towards the ultimate goal of net-zero concrete,” said the Association’s chief executive Thomas Guillot.

“I envision a world in the not too distant future where the foundation of a sustainable, zero-carbon global economy will literally be built with green concrete.

“We now need governments around the world to work with us and use their huge procurement power to advocate for low carbon concrete in their infrastructure and housing needs. … Global cooperation on decarbonizing concrete is a necessity, as countries developing their infrastructure and housing will be the biggest users of concrete in the coming decades.”

To Guillot’s latter point, public infrastructure accounts for almost 60% of all global cement and concrete demand.

the cement and concrete industry accounts for 7% of global annual greenhouse gas emissions at present, but will need to grow in the coming years and decades to match the pace of urbanisation and growing demand for infrastructure that will enable the low-carbon transition. Indeed, the UN estimates that 75% of public infrastructure that will exist globally in 2050 does not yet exist. As such, emissions will need to be decoupled from growth.  

Net-zero trends

2019 and 2020 saw an influx of corporate net-zero commitments for the long-term, as businesses took the first steps to align with updated climate targets from nations.

But there was a growing sentiment that such commitments would, ultimately, no be sufficient without plans to lay strong foundations in the short-term and medium-term, meaning they could simply be used as a form of greenwashing or “sustainability-as-usual”. Research by South Pole late last year found that just 10% of businesses with net-zero targets for 2050 or sooner have science-based interim goals.

As such, the past few months have seen many businesses setting interim targets – many of them science-based. At the start of July, the Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi) had approved ambitions for 796 companies. As of today, the figure stands at 973.

Since October began, edie has covered updated interim targets from big names including Virgin Atlantic, Grosvenor Britain and Ireland, Mars, McDonald’s, Marks & Spencer and Orchard Street.

Sarah George

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie