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New research shows heavy industries could be the ‘cement’ that keeps a just climate transition on course

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World Cement,

The World Benchmarking Alliance’s (WBA) first Heavy Industries Benchmark, published today, reveals that the companies’ emissions intensity reductions are currently not aligned with a 1.5-degree trajectory, there is not yet enough investment in market-ready technologies, but good practice provides hope that robust transition planning is possible throughout the sectors.

The heavy industries sectors of aluminium, cement, and steel – are critical to the world’s decarbonisation journey. They deliver the materials necessary for a transition to a more sustainable future. From electric vehicles to new homes to wind turbines and solar panels the demand for production from heavy industries will continue to grow in the next decade.

Yet, to meet decarbonisation goals, manufacturers and suppliers of these materials cannot maintain business as usual, as they are currently responsible for emissions representing 18% of global CO2, and just the 91 assessed companies were responsible for 7% of global energy-related emissions in 2022.

Vicky Sins, World Benchmarking Alliance’s Decarbonisation and Energy Transformation Lead, said:

“Heavy industries provide a massive opportunity to help us reach and ‘cement’ a rapid, just transition – but if the sector does not accelerate action, they will be a significant obstacle to global decarbonisation targets. We need strong accountability, leadership and urgent action from aluminium, cement, and steel producers to ensure a just, low-carbon future.

WBA’s research found that emissions intensities from companies need to fall 3 times faster in the next 5 years in order to align with a 1.5 trajectory. If these reductions are not reached by 2030, the need for more market ready technologies will be even more critical.

The assessed sub-sectors have new and innovative technologies available that can lead companies towards a low carbon future, but investments in R&D for market-ready technologies is insufficient. Of the companies assessed, 24% disclose R&D expenditure in low-carbon technologies, and just 10% in non-mature technologies.

To ensure decarbonisation doesn't stop with them, companies should be collectively building the foundation for transition planning. Our results found that good practice was observed across the sector with 28% of companies having transition plans that encompass all business units/operations, 13% cover the entire companies value chain, 23% incorporate a carbon price calculation and 8% align with low-carbon scenarios. This highlights that these sectors can elevate standards for key players and assist laggards to join the rest.

WBA also assessed the 91 companies on their social impact and just transition efforts. As for the latter, results show most companies aren't supporting a just transition. The highest scorer got only half the available points and on average, companies score less than 5%. This highlights the urgent need for improvement, though top performers prove a just transition is possible across the sectors.

The need for just transition plans is more important than ever, with people and communities impacted by heavy industries from employment to health. More than 2.9 million workers were directly employed across the companies we assessed in 2022. Yet companies are still showing a widespread lack of dedication and initiative when it comes to basic responsible business conduct. Less than 45% of all companies we assessed have committed to respecting human rights and half (55.4%) are committed to protecting the health and safety of their workers.

Overall, these sectors underline the dual role of heavy industries as both delivering the material production crucial for the transition but also as the industries in which emissions are particularly hard to abate. Long investments cycles of typically 40 years means that facilities in place today will likely remain emitting well past 2050.

Cement is the second most-consumed resource in the world, with more than 4 billion t of the material produced globally every year. If the cement industry were a country, it would be the fourth biggest source of CO2 behind China, the United States and India, but there are still no mature and cost-competitive solutions for decarbonising production, according to the Rhodium Group.

Cement companies are active in key low-carbon business models but more progress is needed. While 60% of companies have been found to be active in increasing the recycling rate of concrete and cement, only 30% foresee growth in this activity over the next 5 years. Production of low-clinker cement is expected to grow in half of the cement companies evaluated, but this business model represents less than 25% of the activity in 87% of the companies.

3 cement companies – Heidelberg Material, CRH and Taiwan Cement - have established reduction targets that are fully 1.5 aligned, both on the short as well as on the long term.

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