INSIGHT: ICCA enters the climate change hothouse

12 December 2012 15:06  [Source: ICIS news]

By Will Beacham

Arctic sea ice Augsut 2012LONDON (ICIS)--The UN Climate Change Conference, known as COP 18, took place in Doha, Qatar at the end of November and beginning of December, against a backdrop of accelerating global greenhouse gas emissions.

This annual event faces what some might say is the hopeless task of making progress on reducing greenhouse gas emissions globally by 50% by 2050. With major economies such as China and the US in a standoff, refusing to sign up to binding emissions reductions targets through the Kyoto process, the chances of success seem slim.

Into the fray for the first time ever, this year the International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA) – representing a fair proportion of the global industry – was in attendance as an official observer organisation.

The ICCA believes it would be more productive to move the debate on from the all but impossible task of applying targets and working out which countries should pay for what, and how.

ICCA wants the UN and others to give more attention to cutting emissions through adoption of cleaner and greener technology, whilst maintaining negotiations towards targets. They may have a point.

Whilst it may be extremely unpalatable for some governments to accept penalties for carbon emissions, and what they may see as taxes on economic growth and jobs, surely none would argue against the increased use of emissions-lowering technologies which have the added benefit of creating economic growth locally.

In an interview ahead of the meeting, Russell Mills, global director, energy and climate change policy at Dow Chemical and vice chairman of the ICCA’s Energy and Climate Change Leadership Group, said the ICCA was taking the message about carbon reduction through the use of advanced building materials plus cleaner energy production to COP18.

 “Most [carbon control] actions have been about trying to advance global climate change negotiations but these are moving very slowly,” he said. “Or for governments to try and manage production issues which they frankly can’t control because people can produce wherever they like.

“But these are things governments can control. Here is a huge opportunity to make some real progress while working on the longer-term issues of reaching a global agreement.”

According to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA’s) Energy Technology Perspectives 2012 report, the building sector is directly or indirectly responsible for about 32% of global energy consumption and for 26% of global total end use energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

Mills claims that use of better building materials between now and 2050 in Europe, Japan and the US could save a cumulatively 30bn tonnes of CO2 equivalent or 600m tonnes/year. This equals the energy use of 75m homes, or more than the energy used by most individual countries in the EU.  He points out it would also stimulate demand for the products of the chemical industry.

“If you [governments] can control something that can save you 600m tonnes of CO2 in your territories and with lots of co-benefits then why aren’t we spending more doing that rather than in areas we can’t necessarily control?”

“Energy efficiency is one of the few areas where there is global consensus on the need to act plus the co-benefits of improved growth and job-creation in local economies,” he added.

But has the chemical industry yet put its own house in order? Progress on this front is patchy at best. Although carbon emissions are decreasing in Europe and the US, this may have as much to do with decreased production as improved efficiency.

“Globally we [the chemical industry] are the largest single consumer of energy amongst industrial sectors and therefore a large and growing source of greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.

“A lot of that comes from growth in emerging economies which are quote carbon intensive. We have to tackle our own carbon footprint as well as helping others in the value chain.”

Applying global targets to the chemical industry will be impossible until countries such as China cooperate. Chemical trade associations in China and many other emerging markets have so far failed to sign up to full membership of ICCA.

“For a chemical industry target to make sense it has to be global. Eighty percent of chemical industry emissions come from 10-20 building blocks produced by a couple of handfuls of companies globally. Many of these are state-owned enterprises in emerging economies. That’s where most of the growth is and much of the new production capacity. To have a target you have to get these people involved.”

The ICCA is spreading its outreach to these regions. Mills says that long term, it would make sense to have global targets, but the people ICCA works with, including these big state-owned enterprises, have to feel comfortable working with the organisation and see the benefits of carbon control.

 “At some point in the future we do have to find a way to decarbonise our sector faster than the current ‘business as usual’ curve but that will require global action.”

Mills does sound genuinely optimistic about chemical industry progress in carbon control. “We’re more positive than many people because if you go back only a couple of years even a discussion on energy or resource efficiency was taken negatively by the big oil producers,” he said. “And now here we are having these discussions in the Gulf which is the heart of energy and petrochemicals. This shows that all parts of the energy production and consumption side are now better aligned than they were a few years ago.”

It is encouraging that the Gulf Petrochemical Association (GPCA) has just become a fully fledged member of ICCA. There are two Chinese observer organisations but progress towards full membership for China and other emerging countries has been slow.

To be more effective it will be vital for ICCA’s membership to expand to cover what will become the world’s largest chemical industry emitters of CO2 – the emerging nations. Meanwhile we live in hope that the group’s messages are heard at government level and by the public.  

By: Will Beacham
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