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Improving engagement with the Chinese cement industry

World Cement,


Ten years ago, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s Cement Sustainability Initiative (CSI) set out to explore how sustainable development could be applied to the cement industry. Many global players quickly joined, but representation from the Chinese market, which is responsible for nearly 50% of global cement production, remained with European and Japanese-based members who have minority shares operations and joint ventures in China.

China and the CSI

Currently, 80% of the world’s cement supply is produced and consumed in emerging economies such as China, and this is expected to grow to 90% by 2025. As the demand for concrete rises, cement production in the next 20 years is predicted to double. China is therefore a key player both in cement manufacturing and consumption, with increased urbanisation and a rapid rate of infrastructure development. An active stakeholder dialogue and training programme has been undertaken to encourage membership from Chinese cement companies. However, while the non-European membership of the CSI has grown steadily, it was not until late 2009 that the CSI welcomed its first Chinese member. Now, less than 12 months on, it has five Chinese members, representing approximately 15% of the Chinese market by production.

Dr Howard Klee, CSI Program Director, explains the relationship:

“Things take time in China. The cement industry is closely linked to the state: until recently, the China Cement Association was part of a government ministry, so their role is much more significant than that of trade associations more typically found in Europe and North America. The CSI had to present its story clearly. We had to make sure companies understood what the CSI is and, crucially, what it is not. The CSI is a voluntary organisation composed of leading cement companies, not a trade association or a technology advisory panel. The CSI carries no power of legislation over its members, yet its members benefit greatly through participation in, and learning from, task forces that span subjects as diverse as health and safety, recycled concrete, energy and climate management and quarry management.

“What has become apparent is that membership of the CSI provides access to a very knowledgeable peer group. Chinese cement producers are actively engaged in a range of sustainability initiatives, and have been for some time. Improving energy efficiency is a key issue. Long term security of supply, coupled with other concerns about environmental pollution, is a real driver for sector actions.“

The impact of the CSI on China

The efforts of the CSI in forming relationships and establishing dialogue with Chinese producers are already proving fruitful. China has shown increasing interest in addressing energy efficiency and climate change. In the early days, there were more than 10 000 cement plants. They were small, energy inefficient and produced relatively low quality cement; but they could be built quickly and cheaply. As the industry has grown, so too have concerns about energy efficiency, product quality and pollution. A WBCSD study compared current Chinese practice at the time to best international practice. It was clear that many plants were too small to be economically viable and too small to install basic environmental controls. Since then, the government has been systematically eliminating small, out of date facilities, and encouraging industry consolidation and growth of enterprises of sufficient size to deal more effectively with energy management and pollution. Environmental awareness has grown, particularly through decisive government action. Over 700 inefficient plants had been instructed to close by the end of September, following on from similar efforts in the last few years. As a result of a continuous programme of kiln replacement, China has significantly reduced its net emissions.

What progress is being made?

The CSI’s work in reducing emissions has produced quantifiable results within the sector. In July 2010 the CSI released figures showing a 3.8% reduction in specific net CO2 emissions (per t of cement) since 2005 and a reduction of more than 14% since 1990.

The shift in China’s commitments to greenhouse gas mitigation is considerable for the country as a whole, as well as the cement sector. China’s current Five-Year Plan calls for a 20% reduction in energy use per unit of GDP with a particular focus on energy-intensive industries such as cement, whilst agreeing to lower its CO2 emissions per unit of GDP by 40 – 50% by 2020. During climate negotiations in 2009, China, the world’s largest producer of CO2, was hesitant to commit to further reduction targets. However, the decision by these five producers to align themselves with the CSI’s aims since then demonstrates China’s increasing desire to participate in international programmes for carbon management.

In summary, there is evidence of significant progress towards sustainable development and energy efficiency in the cement industry, particularly in China. The inclusion of five Chinese members, with a total production capacity equivalent to the EU’s cement production, means the CSI now has representation in nearly all the major cement-producing regions of the world, extending its reach, influence and ability to further the sustainability agenda within the industry.

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