Time to build our infrastructure on green foundations

Three quarters of the infrastructure that will exist in 2050 has yet to be built. This point, made by António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations at the launch of today’s Global Cement and Concrete Association (GCCA) Global Net-Zero Roadmap for cement and concrete, underlines how important sustainable building materials are to our future. As the Secretary General said, “without credible action now, future generations will have no liveable planet to build upon.”

Concrete is an essential element of construction, with no other material equalling its resilience, strength, affordability and wide availability. It is the most used human-made material on the planet with 14 billion cubic meters produced every year for use in everything from roads to bridges, tunnels to homes, and hydropower installations to flood defences. However, production of cement, the key ingredient in concrete, accounts for around 7% of global CO2 emissions. Most of these emissions are released during the production phase, due to the chemical reaction that occurs in its making.

The challenge of reducing the footprint and the high stakes for the planet are why the GCCA, representing the cement and concrete sector, is the first heavy industry to globally commit to, and publish, a detailed roadmap to net-zero by 2050, with a commitment to reduce emissions by a quarter in the next decade.

Our member companies, major producers from across the globe, representing 80% of total production outside China, as well as key Chinese manufacturers, have come together to set out the way to achieve this. The roadmap to get there is built around a seven-point plan that relies on ambitious yet achievable actions. It includes boosting the offering of low carbon cement and concrete products, increasing circularity in our process and products – in particular reducing fossil fuel use in manufacturing-, and accelerating innovation and breakthrough technologies such as carbon capture.

However, to move towards a net-zero world in the years ahead, action needs to be wider than from our industry alone. The UN Secretary General himself said, “the transition cost should not be borne only by the first movers.” He called “on all governments and relevant actors to align public and private finance and procurement to create strong markets for net zero-aligned industrial production and develop national sectoral roadmaps towards net zero emissions”.

So, how do we ensure future infrastructure is created in the greenest way possible?

First, we are asking for support from policymakers to create market demand for low carbon products in construction and public procurement. Here, policy reforms and the promotion of low carbon products can make a big difference as public infrastructure accounts for almost 60% of all global cement and concrete demand.

Secondly, the cost of externalities should be acknowledged. Today our society lives on 51 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas (including 37 billion tonnes of CO2) on the credit of planet earth. Regulators need to develop appropriate mechanisms for carbon pricing and prevention of carbon leakage, creating a level playing field and ensuring a managed transition to a net-zero economy.

Here, we also need policymakers to support carbon removal technologies, such as carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS) innovations. This technology, which has already been shown to work in the many projects that exist around the world, now needs to mature by the end of the decade. We will then be ready to deploy CCUS at a global and commercial scale.

Thirdly, we want to intensify collaboration with the construction industry, construction professionals and policymakers to develop the design and regulatory framework that will drive efficient use of resources and products, use of reprocessed and recycled material, re-use of elements, develop digital and 3D printing, and extend the lifetime of whole projects.

And finally, we will also need the infrastructure and policies necessary for the development of green energy and waste directives that fully promote a circular economy.

We 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. I am proud of the commitment made by our members and hope that it will inspire other industries to answer the UN Secretary General’s call and develop their own roadmap towards net-zero emissions.

Comments (2)

  1. David Dundas says:

    Fine words on a massive problem, but no indications about how green cement can be achieved, and what the industry is doing to find this elusive product at a price similar to that of conventional cement. Is carbon capture and storage (CCS) part of the solution?

  2. Andy Philips says:

    I understand the chemicals and materials that go into making concrete. Not only that, but it is essentially polluting the ground wherever it’s poured. It’s incredibly important to create sustainable building materials, especially concrete. I do love the idea of green concrete but I think it’s in the more long-term future of the construction industry.

    Andy – concrete contractors in bozeman

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