Concrete industry seeks collaboration with governments on net-zero targets

Global policymakers including the United Nations, the US Department of Energy, global economists and built environment leaders have met cement and concrete industry CEOs to discuss how to build a sustainable future built environment.

It has been widely acknowledged that concrete accounts for at least 7 per cent of total global CO2 emissions. Last year, the Global Cement and Concrete Association (GCCA) issued its 'Roadmap to Net Zero 2050' as the industry seeks to reduce its environmental impact. That roadmap committed GCCA members to fully decarbonise by 2050, aligning with the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5°C.

This year, the GCCA's annual gathering of company CEOs – the first such face-to-face meeting of industry leaders since the pandemic began – brought together key policymakers, industry leaders and sustainability representatives from the industry’s leading companies to discuss the future of concrete and the industry's next steps on its roadmap to net zero.

The two-day gathering in Atlanta was titled ‘Concrete Future: Net Zero Delivery – From Commitment to Action’. The event included high-level discussions on how to address roadblocks, find shared solutions and collaborate with wider societal stakeholders to secure the sector’s net-zero pathway.

The industry is also seeking to work more effectively with governments and increase investment for the deployment of Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage (CCUS) – a key part of the industry’s own roadmap. The future role of the built environment in delivering a more sustainable and resilient world is also a key topic under discussion among delegates.

Thomas Guillot, chief executive of the GCCA, said: “To achieve net zero and enable the delivery of the sustainable built environment of the future, there needs to be ongoing engagement and deeper collaboration between our industry and government in the years ahead. Targeted government policy will be vital to removing barriers and to expediting our industry’s decarbonisation plans.

“Cement and concrete will play a vital role in delivering a net-zero world. In 2021, our industry made a breakthrough in pledging to reach net zero by 2050. This year in March, we launched the first of a series of 'Net Zero Accelerator' initiatives to help national cement and concrete industries ensure net-zero targets are met.”

Notable speakers at the net-zero gathering were Selwin Hart, United Nations (UN) special adviser and assistant secretary-general for the Climate Action Team; Brad Crabtree, assistant secretary for fossil energy and carbon management in the US Department of Energy; Diane Hoskins, co-CEO of Gensler, the world’s largest architecture firm; Bjorn Otto, chair of Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI)’s executive committee; and Dr Gernot Wagner, climate economist and author.

The UN's Hart said: “We need [the concrete industry] to be champions of net-zero credibility by bringing your entire industry and supply chains on board with clear, specific plans on how you will all reach net zero, and what immediate steps you’ll take to cut emissions significantly during this critical decade.

“Concrete and cement are some of the most carbon-intensive materials in our built environment. Today – on behalf of the Secretary-General – I am calling on you to switch from fossil fuels starting with existing coal and doing so as soon as possible. I also ask you to invest in the necessary technologies and upgrades to get to net zero, including investing in the ingredients and mixes that could help emit less carbon.

“Your industry has the power to change the course of human history for the better and it starts with a smart and speedy exit from coal and shift to renewables.”

A survey conducted in advance of the gathering found that decarbonisation ranked as the highest priority area among cement and concrete industry leaders. The survey also showed overwhelming confidence among industry leaders that their industry will continue to prosper as society transitions to a net-zero future.

Crabtree, representing the US Department of Energy, said: “The cement and concrete industry has a crucial role to play in an industrial transformation, which is essential to achieving our net-zero goals.

“They are leading efforts to further expand and accelerate emission reductions, both globally and at the national level. But industry can’t do it alone. Government has a critical role to play and we welcome the opportunity to partner with the cement and concrete industry to reduce emissions and decarbonise a critical economic sector.”

Following the launch of the GCAA's net-zero roadmap, a 'Net Zero Accelerator Programme' was launched this year to help national cement and concrete industries in developing nations such as Thailand and Egypt decarbonise, with local action a key pillar of the roadmap. In April, GCCA announced its first-ever ‘Open Challenge’, led by its innovation network ‘Innovandi’, which involved leading cement companies supporting innovative start-ups develop sustainable technologies for the industry.

GCCA membership represents approximately 80 per cent of the global cement industry volume outside of China, with some key Chinese manufacturers also included, such as CNBM.

E&T explored the issues around concrete and cement in a recent special issue devoted to these crucial building materials.

The challenges of addressing concrete’s carbon footprint are immense, given that the industry continues to pour around 14 billion cubic metres every year. Accordingly, the quest for smarter, and greener, cement will increasingly be the focus for industry researchers.

Bioengineering may have a part to play such that one day it may be possible to 'grow' concrete and other building materials. Meanwhile, designers are finding innovative ways of working with concrete to build homes, decorate them, and help the environment.

Looking back at concrete's past, we review the Pantheon in Rome – still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. Looking ahead, what building materials will astronauts use on the Moon and Mars? It is likely that the techniques of mixing concrete will still be in play on other worlds, albeit with different elements.

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