The 2% and the IPCC

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Cement production took an unnecessarily harsh rap from the latest assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The cause? Misleading wording.

In its summary for policymakers from Working Group I contribution to the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (WGI AR5), every time CO2 emissions were mentioned, cement was also mentioned. Typically this was along the lines of: "annual CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion and cement production". Energy supply or transport industries were not mentioned. Only cement was. Subsequently in some general press reports covering the IPCC report, cement was duly parroted as the major industrial source of CO2 emissions.

Digging into the data revealed that this particular wording derived from one of the data sources that the IPCC used that examined global CO2 emissions from fossil-fuel burning, cement manufacture and gas flaring from 1751 - 2008 from the US Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center. Here cement production was grouped along with different type of fossil fuels, such as gas, liquids and solids, and gas flaring. Deeper into the IPCC draft report it was revealed (using this research) that total cumulative emissions between 1750 and 2011 amounted to 365 ± 30 PgC (1 PgC = 1015 grams of carbon), of which only 8 PgC (2%) came from the production of cement.

Undoubtedly the cement industry's carbon emissions are huge but ambiguous wording in a release targeted for policymakers is not helpful.

Thankfully at about the same time as the IPCC made headlines last week European Cement Association, Cembureau, followed the UK's Mineral Products Association (MPA) in releasing its own lobbying document for the industry. This consisted of five parallel routes to lowering emissions related to cement production. Unfortunately Cembureau's press release didn't receive the global media coverage that the IPCC did.

The bottom line is this: cement is essential for modern industrial societies.

With or without climate change caused by human behaviour, we will all need somewhere to live and work. For the moment such structures will be built from cement and concrete. Organisations like Cembureau offer a way forward. Global policymakers should pay attention.

Last modified on 30 January 2017

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