Many regions and countries around the world have committed to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, reflecting a global consensus on the importance of curbing climate change and limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
But are we on track to hit net-zero emissions by 2050?
The short answer is: we're making progress, but there's still a long way to go.
The good news is that about 140 countries, responsible for 91% of greenhouse gas emissions, have proposed or committed to net-zero goals by 2050. The bad news is that most are not making enough progress fast enough to meet those goals.
What are we doing globally to reduce GHG emissions today?
The methods and intensity of response to emissions reductions vary worldwide depending on regional priorities and economic factors.
USA & Canada
The USA's stance on emissions targets has fluctuated over the years, but today it has set clear targets, which include a carbon-free power sector by 2035, the Build Back Better framework that offers a comprehensive approach to green jobs and infrastructure, and the Inflation Reduction Act which contains $500 billion in new spending and tax breaks that aim to boost clean energy and lower emissions.
In Canada, the "Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change" is the main blueprint, emphasizing collaboration between federal, provincial, and territorial governments. Canada has been notable for its approach to price carbon pollution, thereby providing an economic incentive for carbon reduction.
The European Union's (EU) approach is set out in the European Green Deal, which seeks to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent. The region has set an ambitious intermediate target to cut GHG emissions by at least 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is focusing mainly on renewable energy and its Hydrogen Leadership Roadmap to position itself as a hydrogen exporter. The region showcased a remarkable transition in clean energy capacity, from 100 MW in 2015 to 2.4 GW in 2020.
The Asia-Pacific (APAC) region is the most diverse in its approach due to the sheer number of countries it encompasses. Over 670 companies across the region have set (or committed to setting) emissions reduction targets via the Climate Disclosure Program (CDP) and Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi). Japan has the largest number of companies with an emissions reduction target, despite only accounting for approximately 6 percent of regional emissions and Australia has the highest proportion of companies with targets on the 1.5-degree pathway.
What is the role of construction in emissions reduction?
Buildings are responsible for 39% of global energy-related CO2 emissions — 28% from operational emissions (from the energy needed to heat, cool, and power them) and the remaining 11% from embodied emissions (from materials and construction).
Cement — the key ingredient that gives concrete its strength — accounts for 3 of the 11% emissions created from all building materials and construction activities. Given the outsized role cement and concrete play in the overall emissions from the construction sector, they represent the biggest opportunities for emissions savings.
How can the concrete industry make a bigger impact?
While there is no silver bullet to achieve net zero, concrete is made up of so many ingredients — and there are lots of ways to reduce the carbon impact of these individual components and processes. Most of the carbon reduction and carbon removal innovation effort is focused on three key areas: low-carbon fuels, low-carbon blended cement, and carbon capture, utilization, and storage technologies.
1. Low-Carbon Fuels
The concrete industry has been focused on fuel efficiency for a number of years for both cost-reduction and carbon-reduction reasons. More recently, the industry began evaluating the move from traditional fuels (e.g., coal) to low-carbon fuels (e.g., renewable natural gas), waste fuels (e.g., non-recyclable plastics, non-recyclable tires, rail ties, etc.), and potentially even carbon-neutral fuels. However, there are some limitations based on the local availability of such fuels.
2. Low-Carbon Blended Cements and SCMs
Most producers are already using Portland Limestone Cements (PLCs) and supplementary cementitious materials (SCMs) in their cement or concrete mixes. Further optimizing the use of these materials could reduce cement and concrete emissions greatly. It’s important to note that some of these solutions have durability and finishability implications in certain applications and, as a result, are not accepted in all specifications.
3. Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage Technologies
Innovation in carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) technologies is arguably the most exciting development in the concrete industry to reduce carbon emissions.
Carbon capture technologies make it possible to capture up to 100% of the carbon emissions from cement manufacturing. These captured emissions can be injected back into concrete to strengthen it (via CarbonCure), stored safely underground, or used to make other products like synthetic aggregates or fuels.
Contact CarbonCure for more information.