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Concrete action to decarbonise the cement industry

Europe’s cement industry is committed to its goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. Michele Monterosso, global lead of ING’s construction sector, shares some insights into how it can get there.

Since committing to being carbon neutral by 2050, Europe’s cement industry has been working hard to cut CO2 emissions in each stage of the cement and concrete value chain. It’s no easy task – cement is the most-used man-made building material around, with no scalable substitutes, and accounts for around 8% of global CO2 emissions. Considering population growth and global urbanisation trends, this will likely remain the case for the foreseeable future.

The Ukraine war, worsening climate crisis, and the COVID-19 pandemic have intensified concerns around environmental and social issues in recent times, impacting on most sectors to varying degrees. And cement is no different. Many players in the cement industry are pushing sustainability higher up the agenda and looking for ways to go greener.

In April 2022, the European Cement Association (CEMBUREAU) saw fit to publish a position paper underscoring its commitment to its carbon neutrality goals and roadmap. It proposed key actions that would help the cement industry cope with the changing geopolitical context while furthering the EU priorities on energy and climate.

The message is clear: the industry has its 2050 goals clearly in its sights. But just how can it decarbonise amid a multitude of obstacles?

New technologies and innovation

Decarbonising cement requires large investments in new technologies and innovations, which only the biggest players active on a wide geographical scale can afford. These investments don’t have an immediate pay-off and require very disciplined and adequate tracking to make sure they’re doing what’s intended. Yet, because the cement industry is characterised by the presence of such large global players, new technology can be more effective and used more widely, at a quicker pace.

Most of the CO2 reductions in the cement industry are expected to come from carbon capture and storage. This is central to the decarbonisation strategies of major industry players. Another big driver for building with a reduced carbon footprint is 3D printing, especially in emerging markets where new construction and urbanisation trends are stronger.

Strong relationships

At ING, we have strong relationships with clients across the construction value chain, and we aim to strengthen relationships with core clients who invest a good percentage of their turnover in research and innovation. We give advice on sustainable finance products and long-term and innovative solutions. We also encourage companies to set ambitious sustainability KPIs.

One such KPI is emission intensity. This is measured by kilos of CO2 emissions per ton of cement produced. The average is currently around 700 kilos of CO2 per ton of cement produced. Most of the leading players have set their targets within the 450 to 500 kilos threshold by 2030.

Joint effort

As a financial institution with a global footprint, ING can play an important role towards decarbonisation, but it is a joint effort. The real impact comes from strong cooperation and tangible actions, as well as investments by clients in their transition paths. Governments also have a key role to set ambitious targets and provide enough stimulus to accelerate decarbonisation in a coordinated way. Together, we can take concrete action to decarbonise the cement industry.