Industry action on climate change

Industry action on climate change
Published: 04 December 2015


World leaders gathered in Paris this week for critical talks on global warming at the UN COP21 climate change summit which, if a decisive agreement is reached, could drive climate change actions in the building industry.

The COP21 conference, which began on Monday, aims to achieve a new ground-breaking binding international climate agreement with the objective of limiting global warming to below 2°C, believed to be the tipping point that results in catastrophic effects of climate change. The agreement will define how countries share efforts to reduce GHG emissions and agree on emission reduction targets for the next 15 years as well as in the longer term (eg, by 2050) and hopes to boost the transition towards resilient, low-carbon societies and economies.

For the cement industry, the meeting provides an opportunity to take stock, map the road ahead and prepare further action. Reduction targets laid out in COP21 are only the latest guide in a long path towards lower-carbon production techniques. The industry-specific Cement Technology Roadmap – Carbon emissions reductions up to 2050, developed by the IEA and WBCSD and published in 2009, outlines the technological options to reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions at all stages of the production. These include improving thermal and electric efficiency, use of alternative fuels, clinker substitution and carbon capture and storage (CCS).

In addition, market-based mechanisms such as the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) tackle climate change by putting a price on carbon. Global adoption of such mechanisms has long been considered a prerequisite by the cement industry in terms of worldwide competition.

A level playing field
CEMBUREAU has said that it is closely monitoring the COP21 negotiations and calls for a legally-binding international climate change agreement that provides a long-term, stable and reliable environment to encourage investments and support plans to reduce CO2 emissions further and to adapt to climate change. It believes the binding agreement needs to factor in a number of considerations including an international level playing field for industries covering the major emitting jurisdictions and ensuring a comparability of pledges. If the comparison shows an uneven playing field for a specific jurisdiction or sector, appropriate measures need to be foreseen to ensure global competitiveness, it adds.

The regional cement industry is looking for new ways for cement and concrete to contribute to a European low-carbon and circular economy. CEMBUREAU believes it will be possible for the sector’s cement carbon footprint could be reduced by 32 per cent compared with 1990 levels, using mostly conventional means. In its low-carbon Roadmap, CEMBUREAU also describes potential levers for how this could be further increased by the application of emerging new technologies, such as CCS or carbon capture and utilisation (CCU). Presently, the cement industry in Europe is a world leader in substituting 38.7 per cent of fossil fuels used in cement kilns with alternative fuels and aims to achieve a 60 per cent alternative fuel use by 2050. Subject to specified policies and technological prerequisites, a potential reduction of up to 80 per cent may be envisaged.

Beyond COP21
Meanwhile, the world's largest cement producer, LafargeHolcim, will be an active participant at COP21. The company will use the Paris Conference to argue for coordinated efforts to create a level-playing field at an international level for the cement industry, as well as the progressively coordinated use of carbon pricing mechanisms.

LafargeHolcim has pledged its support to the launch of the “Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction” during COP21’s Building Day. This initiative, currently led by France and UNEP, aims at mobilising stakeholders (state and non-state actors) to collaborate beyond COP21 to achieve a greater scale of actions in the buildings and construction sectors.

The company is also making its own commitments to contribute to meeting the 2°C warming threshold, including cutting net CO2 emissions by 40 per cent/t of cement by 2030 against the 1990 level. Beyond these measures, LafargeHolcim is also focussed on energy efficiency in buildings and is pushing for an integrated design and collaboration along the entire construction lifecycle.

With urgent action still needed on climate change, the conclusion of COP21 negotiations could provide a blueprint of meaningful change. If far-reaching agreements are reached to reduce CO2 emissions, the cement industry can expect to be a major focus of such reduction efforts in a carbon-constrained world, and measures to enhance energy efficiency, reduce the clinker content in cement and the use of alternative energy sources could attain even greater importance.