Cement at the UN Climate Summit, New York

New York, 23 September 2019 - Last month, at the UN Climate Summit in New York, the problem of how to decrease industry emissions from the most energy intensive and hard-to-abate sectors was hotly discussed. Decreasing emissions from these sectors, including cement, steel, aluminium, chemicals, aviation and shipping is crucial, since these are forecast to be responsible for 15.7Gt of CO2 by 2050. 

Prior to the Summit, companies falling into these categories were asked to set a net-zero target for 2050, as well as clear nearer-term goals for reducing emissions. The UN warned that these plans must not address mitigation alone, must not exacerbate economic inequalities, and must show a holistic transformation which is line with the sustainable development goals. For example, evidence suggests that gender-diverse decision-making will be necessary to better address the needs of a greener future.

The international collaboration between countries and industry groups is also critical to establishing workable policy frameworks and incentives, and to enable joint investment into low carbon infrastructure. These steps are vital to reducing emissions in the immediate term and accelerate the transition to low-carbon industrial development, whilst pursuing efforts to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.     

To this end, leading cement producer, LafargeHolcim led a roundtable at the UN Summit on the topic of decarbonising the built environment. Their US CEO of Aggregates and Construction Materials, Jay Moreau, noted that “every month for the next thirty years, around the world, we will build the equivalent of New York city”. Buildings and the world’s construction sectors are currently responsible for nearly 40% of global emissions, with the number of buildings being built and their corresponding energy demand only increasing year on year. It is estimated that 60% of the infrastructure needed to support the world by 2050 has not yet been built.  

Concrete, as a key construction material which will be used to build much of this infrastructure, has a key role to play in the reduction of emissions. The production of clinker is the most CO2 intensive part of cement manufacturing, and is hence the area on which companies must focus in order to achieve the reductions in GHG emissions the world needs to remain under the critical 1.5oC warming threshold.

However, “if companies aren’t incentivised, then we won’t see results,” warned Mr Moreau. Governments were advised to provide financial incentives and policy measures which would help the largest-emitting industries to achieve their targets, including the use of biofuels, carbon capture and storage, and renewables.

The cement and construction industries can contribute to sustainability in many areas, including energy efficiency, resource usage, pollution reduction and building sustainable communities, linking with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. However, the most important contribution the cement industry can make is to reduce CO2 emissions. 

The World Cement Association (WCA) is a leading advocate of climate change response. As WCA President Song Zhiping emphasised last month, “WCA supports a sustainable cement industry and encourages technical development and other steps to achieve full decarbonisation”. The WCA Climate Action Plan is a roadmap to reducing CO2 emissions across the cement and concrete industry, and includes steps to substitute fossil fuels and reduce clinker usage. Today, concrete is an essential material, but the industry does not yet have a viable route to full decarbonisation and must accelerate the development of new technologies to bridge the gap.