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Editorial comment

Following the disappointing lack of agreement at the climate talks in Copenhagen, Denmark a year ago, delegates arrived in Cancun, Mexico last month for the UNFCCC’s COP16 with much reduced expectations. Although it is probably an exaggeration to say that climate discussions are now alive and well following Cancun, it is good to report that they are probably out of intensive care, with all the Copenhagen pledges now ratified. What is more significant, particularly for the cement industry, is that climate negotiations are now heading much more in the direction of the implementation of national action plans, with sector based actions (sometimes called a sectoral approach) to greenhouse gas mitigation once again looking both practical and attractive.

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The recognition that nationally appropriate mitigation actions (NAMAs) are more likely to be the focus in future is refreshing news to the 24 member companies who make up the World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s Cement Sustainability Initiative. The CSI has focused a good portion of its effort over the past two years examining possible scenarios that would include a sectoral approach to help combat climate change. A sectoral approach offers significant national control to tailor management of emissions and efficiency goals to local circumstances and capabilities. For developing countries, it offers a policy structure to encourage efficiency gains without limiting economic development, and it also provides a chance to share and benefit from best practices and participate in technology development. In the run up to COP15 in Copenhagen, the idea of a sectoral approach being embedded in some form of global agreement was discussed widely and the CSI worked hard to ensure that the debate was supported by robust and thorough modeling. In the disappointment that followed Copenhagen, efforts began to focus more on how an industry sector such as cement could manage emissions on a regional basis. The trend towards local action is very much in line with the findings of the modeling work undertaken by the CSI and now informs our current thinking. Signs of national action are visible in India’s energy efficiency goals, and China’s targets to reduce CO2 emissions per unit of GDP by some 40%. Two very different approaches, but leading to significant potential improvements in greenhouse gas efficiency.

The fact that the Parties in Cancun committed to support mitigation and reporting at a national level should provide encouragement to the cement industry, which has worked hard to understand both its own impact and the role it can play in reducing emissions per tonne of product produced. The whole aspect of Measurement, Reporting and Verification (MRV) is also gaining more prominence with effective MRV being key to the success of NAMAs. The CSI-developed database of facility-specific energy and emissions performance is one tool that can be used to manage a variety of MRV approaches.

In the 12 months that separate the Copenhagen and Cancun COP meetings, the CSI has welcomed its first members from China. As more than 80% of cement is produced in developing nations, they have a key role to play in emissions reduction. However, the concept of targets and caps (as for example in the EU Emissions Trading System) is not one that any of the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China) – or other emerging economies – is likely to adopt in the near future. We therefore need to work on NAMAs as a way to successfully reduce emissions without imposing global constraints. This is one more reason why the outcome from Cancun can be viewed positively. Actions at a local level need to be practical and relevant. The modeling undertaken on behalf of the CSI identified four main levers that could influence emissions reduction: increased utilisation of alternative fuels, blending clinker substitutes, energy efficiency and carbon capture and storage. It is the first two of these that offer most potential given the right legislative and regulatory framework, and the availability of alternative fuels and materials. Looking to the future, there is still a long road ahead of us to reach a climate agreement. It is now more likely that in the short-to-medium term national initiatives will take the place of a single, global deal on climate change. This trend is certain to gather momentum in the coming months and years. The cement industry is well-placed to respond, having the ability, tools and the willingness to undertake robust MRV work. This ability to measure performance and report progress is going to be very important going forward, and the CSI will continue to develop the tools that can be applied across the industry to ensure that both developed and emerging nations are given all the help and encouragement needed to progress on this journey.