Home Blogs Chemicals and the Economy Existential crisis? Growth opportunity? Catalyst for restructuring? Decarbonization challenges the chemical industry and its customers

Existential crisis? Growth opportunity? Catalyst for restructuring? Decarbonization challenges the chemical industry and its customers

Chemical companies
By Paul Hodges on 15-Oct-2023

A new El Nino climate pattern is now underway in the tropical Pacific for the first time in 7 years. And as the World Meteorological Organization warns, this is likely to lead to a surge in global temperatures and disruptive weather and climate patterns:

“The onset of El Niño will greatly increase the likelihood of breaking temperature records and triggering more extreme heat in many parts of the world and in the ocean…. there is a 66% likelihood that the annual average near-surface global temperature between 2023 and 2027 will temporarily be more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels for at least one year.”

1.5°C is, of course, the target set for limiting the rise in global temperature levels versus pre-industrial levels in the 2015 Paris Agreement. And as that Agreement warned:

“To limit global warming to 1.5°C, greenhouse gas emissions must peak before 2025 at the latest and decline 43% by 2030.”

Clearly, there is no time to lose. El Nino’s arrival is likely to provide a very unwelcome foretaste of what might happen, if we fail to meet the target levels for emissions.

The chemical industry is in the “eye of the storm” as the IFC chart confirms. It accounts for 15% of industry emissions. And it is No3 in terms of industry sectors, after iron & steel and cement.

As industry major Dow Chemical have noted:

“Chemicals are present in around 95% of manufactured goods….the chemical industry is Europe’s hungriest industrial energy consumer and the third biggest emitter of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

“It therefore… now stands on the verge of one of the greatest tipping points and challenges in its history: the transition to carbon neutrality.”

Similarly,  the European Commission’s chart highlights how:

“Given its size and strategic relevance, the chemical industry is therefore at the centre of the European Green Deal”.


New European legislation, along with increasing stakeholder and customer pressure, is set to challenge the petrochemicals industry on the issue of sustainability along its entire value chain.

It faces mounting pressure to reduce and/or mitigate its Scope 1, 2 and 3 Greenhouse Gas emissions:

  • This new focus will involve the industry in moving beyond its existing activities to reduce emissions
  • It will require companies to actively develop, and implement, options to transition from fossil carbon feedstocks to renewables
  • In turn, this opens up exciting new opportunities for the introduction of new technologies and to turbocharge the rollout of circular business models to reduce plastic waste

Essentially, the industry is at a crossroads.

It now needs to move forward, and accelerate the move to create new circular business models. There is a once-in-a generation opportunity to build a completely new future, based on closer relationships with its downstream stakeholders, including brand owners and waste companies.