Chemicals cut emissions

C&I Issue 13, 2009

The goods manufactured by the chemical industry actually result in net savings of greenhouse gases, according to a carbon life cycle analysis conducted by McKinsey & Company. The report, which was commissioned by the International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA), found that for every unit of greenhouse gases emitted directly or indirectly by the chemical industry, two units of greenhouse gas emissions were saved by products and technologies dedicated, amongst other things, to high-efficiency lighting, insulation and chemical fertilisers.

McKinsey carried out life cycle analyses for more than 100 different chemical product applications across a representative portion of major chemical usage. Two metrics were used to measure the industry’s CO2 savings: gross savings and net emission abatement. Gross savings account for all the emissions saved during the product’s entire life cycle. Net emission abatement represents the difference between the gross savings to manufacture a chemical product and indirect greenhouse gas emissions, such as transport.

The independent research consultancy, the Öko Institut, audited the report to ensure the life cycle analyses were transparent and scientifically valid.

The report also describes two future scenarios: business-as-usual (BAU) and abatement. In the BAU scenario, emissions from the chemical industry double to 6.5Gt of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) by 2030. As much as 1.5Gt of this increase can be attributed to countries dependent on coal for much of their energy. In the abatement scenario, rapid decarbonisation of the world’s economies is under way thanks to a raft of regulations and policies. Chemical industry production would double, but emissions would only increase by 50% to 5Gt CO2e. The greenhouse gas savings to chemical industry emissions ratio would be as high as 4.7 to 1. The abatement scenario is dependent on increased chemical demand for applications in renewables, such as wind, solar and lignocellulosic ethanol, insulation and carbon capture and storage.

ICCA president and ceo of Solvay, Christian Jourquin, said: ‘This study highlights the vital role of the chemical industry as an enabler of solutions to decarbonise the global economy by making products that save energy and create a net emission reduction.’

However, the report warns that these emissions savings will not occur without ‘effective policy and regulation’. It recommends a global carbon framework to minimise carbon leakage, focusing on the largest and lowest cost abatement opportunities and a drive for energy efficiency.

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