Cement industry urged to reduce ‘invisible’ global emissions | Environment

Greenhouse gas emissions from cement production must be reduced sharply if the world is to meet the climate change goals set out in the Paris agreement, a new report has suggested.

Making cement and concrete, which is the most consumed product in the world after water, entails substantial emissions of carbon dioxide, from the chemical processes involved. While manufacturers have for years been seeking ways to reduce this or capture the carbon produced, and to make cement production more energy efficient, the results have failed to keep pace with the need to cut carbon emissions.

The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), which tracks greenhouse gas emissions from leading industries, found in a report published on Monday that Indian companies were performing best on reducing their carbon footprint, partly because they benefit from newer and more efficient manufacturing plants.

In Europe, emissions from cement production were supposed to be reduced under the EU’s emissions trading scheme, which has operated since 2005, under which heavy industries are awarded allowances for the carbon they produce, and if they need to emit more must buy spare permits from cleaner companies. But the price of permits repeatedly collapsed owing to over-allocation of allowances and the scheme does not operate to reduce emissions as much as intended.

Cement production, according to the CDP, accounts for 6% of global carbon emissions, making it the second biggest source of carbon emissions from global industry, after steel. Its wider effects are even more problematic, as the built environment accounts for more than a third of the world’s carbon emissions. The report found that leading cement companies would need to double their efforts to reduce emissions, in order to meet the Paris climate goals.

Paul Simpson, chief executive of CDP, said companies must seek new technologies to overcome the problem: “Cement is a heavy and largely invisible emitter, yet taken for granted as a necessary building block of basic civilisation. Cement companies need to invest and innovate in order to avoid impending risks to their operations and the wider world. There is a solution – cement companies just need to invest properly in finding it.”

He said companies would come under pressure from investors, customers and government regulations, and that delaying changes to their practices would cost companies more in the long term.

The report, entitled Building Pressure, analysed 13 of the world’s biggest publicly listed cement companies, representing 16% of global cement production and with a a total market capitalisation of $150bn.