No argument here as every single thing in the universe is made out of chemicals.
But I guess what the chemical industry wants to point out is that while environmentalists are accusing them of dirtying the planet and making people become mutants (while at the same time everybody is lapping out the luxuries and convenience of modern products and technology based on chemistry), the industry has responded by developing products that can help reverse or at least slow down climate change.
The International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA) that includes the American Chemistry Council (ACC) initiated a study conducted by independent consulting firms McKinsey & Company of US and Oko Institut of Europe on how the chemical industry can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from processing down to the chemical value chain (e.g. consumer products, building and construction materials, etc…).
The study analyzed the life cycle carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions of over 100 individual chemical products and their applications (uh..how many chemicals do we have right now??). Emission savings were compared with all direct and indirect emissions linked to the chemical industry coming from those products’ CO2e life cycle (cLCA) from cradle to grave.
First of all, the study said the global chemical industry has improved its energy savings at manufacturing level resulting in a 30% decline of GHG emissions from EU chemical production between 1990 and 2005; a 16% GHG emissions decline from US chemical production since 1990; a 16% CO2 intensity decline from Brazilian chemical industry between 2001 and 2007; and a 82% energy consumption reduction by the Japanese chemical industry compared to the 1990 level.
The global chemical industry’s emission in 2005 by the way wasestimated at 3.3 gigatons of CO2e, majority resulting from chemicalproduction including fuels delivered to the chemical industry (2.1 GT)and the rest from extraction phase of the feedstock and fuel materialas well as disposal phase of the end products (1.2 GT)
The study concluded that for every gigaton of CO2e emitted by thechemical industry in 2005, it enabled 2.1 to 2.6 gigaton of CO2e insavings via the products and technologies it provides to otherindustries or users.
“There would have been 3.6to 5.2 gigaton CO2e or 8%-11% more emissions in 2005 in a world withoutthe chemical industry.” – report
The most significantemissions savings enable by the chemical industry (by volume)reportedly come from building insulation materials, agrochemicals,lighting, plastic packaging, marine antifouling coatings, synthetictextiles, automotive plastics, low-temperature detergents, engineefficiency, and plastics used in pipings.
Further analysis and scenarios to 2030 show that the chemicalindustry has substantial potential to help further reduce emissions,the study reported. For the chemical industry’s own emissions,innovations include process and catalyst improvements and processintensifications; use of renewable feedstock including key buildingblock raw materials from biomass; and advanced recovery and recyclingtechnologies.
Biofuel, solar, fuel cell, carbon capture and storage technology,water treatment technology and other high-performance power storagedevices are mentioned as possible innovative solutions that can helpfurther reduce emissions linked to the chemical industry.
Finally, the fine print of this study is that in order for thechemical industry to continue (and accelerate) their good work inhelping reduced GHG emissions, they need proper and effective globalpolicies especially for carbon-based policies.
The study suggests that when forming these new climate changepolicies, regulators should consider the chemical industry’scontribution and potential when it comes to reducing emissions. Thechemical industry (especially from matured markets such as EU, US,Japan) is especially concerned that any of these climate changepolicies could caused distorted competitions and result in migration ofindustrial productions.
For example, other manufacturing countries could just do their usualbusiness of producing chemicals w/o concern about emissions andtherefore could be more globally competitive in terms of costs. The chemical industry calls this issue as “carbon leakage.”
“Policiesmust ensure a level playing field so that we can keep high-paying,green chemistry jobs in the US and avoid the leakage of production andemissions to more carbon-intensive nations. If leakage occurs, theunfortunate result would be a net increase in global emissions,” saysACC president and CEO Cal Dooley.
Aside from minimizing carbon leakage (via global carbon framework) some of their recommendations for policymakers include:
- Policies that give more support to energy-efficient products and applications
- R&D funding for new technologies that could reduce emissions
- Diversity of feedstock and energy (not restricting the use of specific feedstock…e.g. coal, natural gas, oil…)
- Reward companies that implement emission reduction measures
- Developmentof technologies and practices that ensure implementation of efficientand sustainable disposal, recover or recycling of chemistry-basedproducts
- Regulations that ensure level playing field for all industry participants including developing regions.