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12 Mar 24 | 3 min read

To avoid catastrophic climate change, we need to achieve net zero in building materials

Donal O’Riain

The opening session of United Nations’ Environment Programme’s first forum, jointly hosted with the French Government, made for sobering listening. High on aspiration but low on evidence of progress to date, data from the Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction (Buildings-GSR),  published by UNEP and the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction (GlobalABC), provides an annual snapshot of progress on cutting carbon emissions in the buildings and construction sector on a global scale. It sets out starkly the lack of progress to date and the immense size of the task the industry faces.

Emissions from building operations and construction reached new highs in 2022, making up 37 per cent of total global CO2 emissions, due to building operations and the manufacture of building materials.

A key contributor to sector emissions is cement manufacture, the largest source of CO2 from building materials and responsible for almost 8% of all CO2 emissions globally. An industry decarbonisation trajectory compliant with 1.5°C of global warming requires a 48% reduction in global CO2 emissions this decade. The current trajectory for cement is a reduction of just 20%.

By 2050 68% of the world’s population will live in urban areas and the global demand for raw materials is expected to double by 2060, representing a major challenge when it comes to accelerating decarbonisation. The good news is that we have the technologies to do this, but in every session I attended, the bad news was that we lack speed and a sense of urgency to tackle this greatest of challenges.

There was clear consensus on the need for joined up thinking from government and industry, not just in the developed world but more importantly in the global south.

We have to be decisive, act quickly and on a global scale to make further reductions and to stay within the 1.5C global warming limit. New solutions for rapid and deep decarbonisation of cement are essential.

Ecocem’s ACT technology is one of these solutions. On 8 February this year, Ecocem announced it had obtained an ETA (European Technical Assessment) from EOTA (European Organisation for Technical Assessment) for ACT – its revolutionary low carbon cement technology, capable of rapidly reducing CO2 emissions by 70% without excessive cost.

But we cannot act alone.

The “Declaration de Chaillot” adopted by representatives from 70 countries, including the US, on the 8th of March, recognises that in the face of the climate emergency, the building sector needs to accelerate its transition. For the first time, government representatives agreed on a common declaration to engage the entire value chain of the sector. While both China and India were notable for their absence, and this is disappointing, there is still real progress.

The focus on standards and certification, R&D to accelerate innovative solutions and an active focus on using low-carbon, durable, and cost-effective construction materials is welcome.

More is needed.

We know that policy is no longer aligned with advances in materials science and cement technology.  Unless this is urgently addressed, low carbon technologies cannot be rapidly adopted at the scale and pace needed.

Beyond policy and resources the declaration highlights the need to share solutions and technologies globally. Europe may be leading the drive to new low carbon technologies in Europe, but Europe itself is only responsible for 5% of global cement emissions. We need action across the whole of the world to cut those emissions by 50% by 2030.

The global cement industry has a specific responsibility to co-operate on accelerated deployment of low carbon technologies, especially within developing markets, which make up a large portion of global cement demand, to support their huge developmental needs. 60% of the buildings we will use in 2060 have yet to be constructed and 80% of those will be in the developing world. 

Ecocem is calling on the cement industry  and on policy makers to work together to deploy the technology that now exists to reduce global cement CO2 emissions by 50% this decade.


Contact & information

  • To get in touch directly with an Ecocem spokesperson contact us here
  • For more information on ACT, our low carbon cement technology, click here

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