An industry meeting in Brussels this week brought together a number of industry leaders in the cement sector, who were challenged on the levels of CO2 emissions produced by the global cement sector – reportedly as much as five per cent of global totals.
The Brussels meeting brought together the heads and senior staff of 18 companies which make more than 40 per cent of the world’s cement. Howard Klee, who coordinates the initiative called the Cement Sustainability Initiative (CSI), denies it is an industrial lobby group. He said: "We have issues that affect our industry, and these companies are talking about what they might do to prepare for them.
Dimitri Papalexopoulos, managing director of Titan Cement, Athens, who attended the meeting, said: "No matter what you do, cement production will always release carbon dioxide. You can’t change the chemistry, so we can’t achieve spectacular cuts in emissions.
"Cement is needed to satisfy basic human needs, and there is no obvious substitute, so there is a trade-off between development and sustainability."
Cement plants in Europe already face pollution caps under the emissions trading scheme. With no obvious way to significantly clean up their act, the companies are nervous about future regulation. So they have taken the unusual collective step of drawing attention to their damaging impact.
Already, some cement companies have taken steps to reduce their environmental impact. Some burn waste products alongside coal, while others have reworked their recipes and tried to make their plants more energy-efficient, with modest success. The CSI companies are working to standardise such techniques and to issue guidelines on how they can be adopted by others, and plan to publish a progress report in February.
Like George Bush, the CSI prefers voluntary goals and reductions in the "energy intensity" of its products, rather than fixed emission targets. The Japanese company Taiheiyo has pledged to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide it emits for each tonne of cement by 3% by 2010 - a saving that will be swamped by the expected increase in production.
Michio Kimura, chairman of Taiheiyo, said: "Without a [binding] cap then emissions will go up. But we must stop production to meet a cap and that is not good for business. We focus on energy intensity, better performance for the industry and technology." In the long term, only carbon capture and storage could significantly reduce cement emissions, and the industry sponsors research into how this could be done.
Mr Kimura said companies in developing countries needed to develop cleaner technology so it could be used by cement manufacturers in China, none of which have accepted invitations to join the CSI. But many of the newer cement plants in China are cleaner than more established facilities elsewhere, such as in the US - also not represented by the initiative.
Mr Papalexopoulos said: "Sustainability is always talked about from an ethical perspective, which is right, but we also need to look at sustainability based on a business rationale. Regional caps such as the European scheme create an uneven playing field and have unintended consequences.
"Does it make sense from an environmental perspective to cap cement production in Europe, and for cement companies in Europe to shift production to North Africa, where there are less stringent controls? This a global problem, not a regional one. Our industry is trying to develop a global sector approach, which we believe would be better." (Abstracted from a UK Guardian report)