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Although India’s cement firms have taken the lead in curbing emissions in this heavily polluting industry, the global sector as a whole needs to more than double their emission reductions

Cement factories need to sharply reduce their carbon burden (Photo by Astrid Westvang)

Cement companies will have to aggressively reduce greenhouse gas emissions to restrict global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius compared with preindustrial times, a new report has warned. Although cement manufacturers have been for long trying to curtail the release of carbon dioxide and make production more energy efficient, the results so far have failed to keep pace with the need to pare emissions, said the report by CDP, a London-based non-profit previously known as Carbon Disclosure Project.

An analysis of 13 of the world’s largest listed cement companies showed that they would need to more than double their emissions reductions if the goals set by the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement are to be met. These 13 firms have a total market capitalization of USD 150 billion and represent 16% of global cement production, said CDP, which tracks industrial greenhouse gas emissions.

Indian companies in the list are the best performers when it comes to reducing their carbon footprints, said the report, titled Building Pressure. Dalmia Bharat, Ambuja Cement and Shree Cement figured in the top five and there are five Indian companies in the list of 13. They have benefited from newer and more efficient cement plants driven by high market growth in the region, in contrast to their European peers that rely on older cement factories, the report said.

In a similar report released last year by CDP, India’s three large cement makers were found to have significantly reduced emissions among the top 12 producers of the building material in the world. See: India’s cement firms emerge as top emission performers

Heavily polluting sector

The cement sector is the second most polluting industrial sector, and accounts for as much as 6% of global carbon dioxide emissions. It is used in concrete, which is the most consumed global product after water. A majority of the sector’s emissions are inherent to its production process, making them more difficult to control compared to other industries.

Cement sector league table (Source: CDP)

The built environment, which includes offices and residential buildings, uses concrete extensively and accounts for over a third of global emissions. “Regulation of the sector so far has been light but rising ambitions for low carbon cities and tightening building regulations could drive change up the chain,” CDP said.

“Cement is a heavy and largely invisible polluter, yet taken for granted as a necessary building block of basic civilisation,” Paul Simpson, CEO of CDP, said in a statement. “With potential pressure coming from multiple sources, including down the value chain in the form of building and city regulation, cement companies need to invest and innovate in order to avoid impending risks to their operations and the wider world.”

“Cement companies have made some progress towards reducing their emissions, but they need to do a huge amount more,” said Marco Kisic, Senior Analyst at CDP.

Indian scenario

CDP had earlier found that corporations in India are increasingly setting targets to reduce emissions by using energy more efficiently and deploying the use of renewable energy for business operations. Three Indian companies — Infosys, Tata Motors and Dalmia Cement — have committed to 100% renewable power and have joined the RE100 campaign, boosting the country’s clean energy ambition, the CDP India Climate Change Report 2017 had said. RE100 is a collaborative global initiative uniting more than 100 influential businesses committed to 100% renewable electricity. See: Indian companies raise bar on climate action

The cement industry is the third largest industrial consumer of energy, another sector that has been trying to decarbonise its operations. The world installed a record 98 gigawatts of new solar capacity last year, far more than the net additions of any other technology, renewable, fossil fuel or nuclear, according to the latest report by UN Environment (UNEP).

Solar energy dominated global investment in new power generation in 2017, UNEP said. It also attracted far more investment, at USD 160.8 billion, up 18% compared with the previous year, than any other technology. It made up 57% of last year’s total for all renewables (excluding large hydropower) of USD 279.8 billion, and towered above new investment in coal and gas generation capacity, which stood at an estimated USD 103 billion.

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