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Editorial comment

We first began this series of Special Environmental Issues in 2010. The cement industry was undergoing a tough time. Demand, profits, the general mood: everything was down. In spite of this, it had become abundantly clear that meeting environmental regulations and the sustainability of natural resources were the industry’s primary concerns. Demand would come back, but how could we hope to meet it under the conditions of carbon constraint, high input costs and general uncertainty? These special issues aim to address these concerns by examining developments in technology, providing studies of what has and hasn’t worked at other cement plants around the world, and highlighting different methods to replace traditional fuels or reduce the clinker factor to bring down the overall environmental footprint. The cement industry isn’t looking at one drastic change that will make all the difference; instead it’s identifying each individual area of the process where improvements can be made. 

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According to the recently published ‘Trends in global CO2 emissions: 2012 Report’ from PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and the European Commission Joint Research Committee, the industry is not doing too badly: ‘average clinker fractions in global cement production have decreased to between 70% and 80%, compared to nearly 95% for Portland cement’. This works out at a ~20% decrease in CO2 emissions/t of cement produced compared to the 1980s, when supplementary cementitious materials were not in general use. That figure doesn’t include the savings accomplished by burning alternative fuels – which have reportedly achieved a similar reduction over the period. Add to that the energy efficiency refinements made in that time, and we’re looking at a significant improvement in the industry’s environmental performance.

This piecemeal approach to emissions reduction is similar to that proposed in the article ‘Bridging the greenhouse-gas emissions gap’ by Blok et al.1 The article summarises 21 initiatives that the authors claim would ‘trigger greenhouse-gas emission reductions of around 10 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Gt CO2e) by 2020’. Each initiative is listed with an anticipated effect. The highest of these is 2.0 Gt CO2e (voluntary-offset by companies) and the smallest is 0.2 Gt CO2e (supply chain emission reductions). They’re big numbers, but again we’re not looking at a one-stop-shop solution. “The fundamental key for the success of ‘wedging the gap’,” say the authors, “is to build a coalition of globally leading organisations in the world of business, governments, NGOs and the international community. In a first phase, the support of leading organisations for each initiative has to be sought. The focus of a second phase will be on discussing the proposal with major stakeholders within the initiative. In a final phase, the focus will be to turn the individual proposals into a joint arrangement.” The article was published in June 2012 and the authors suggest that the final phase could be launched in conjunction with COP18 in Qatar, beginning at the end of next month. If effective, the initiatives would go a long way towards bridging the gap of 12 Gt CO2e between what we’ll have if we carry on as we are now and what we need to have if we’re to meet the 2 °C limit by 2020. Could we really roll out those kinds of initiatives in such a short time frame?

In some ways it feels as though the cement industry is a step ahead here. Looking at the list of initiatives proposed by Blok et al., what you see is a sectoral approach of the kind the WBCSD CSI has been promoting for years. Most of the majors already have voluntary targets in place to reduce emissions by 2020 and, as customers demand more environmentally friendly products, producers will have to adapt to remain competitive. This issue describes some of the current industry innovations, inspired in part by a strict regulatory environment, which will help to keep those customers happy. We also take a look at that regulatory environment and see how it differs between North America and Europe.

1. HÖHNE, N., VAN DER LEUN, K. AND HARRISON, N., ‘Bridging the greenhouse-gas emissions gap’, Nature Climate Change, Vol. 2 (July 2012).