Decarbonising the global steel and cement sectors calls for more than zero carbon fuels—now

Press release

Deploying current technologies to decarbonise the steel and cement industries is unlikely to be sufficient to meet the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C limit, according to a new Climate Action Tracker (CAT) study - "Manufacturing a low-carbon society: how can we reduce emissions from cement and steel?" - released today.

The steel and cement industries both have large emissions profiles. In 2015, around five percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions came from the steel industry—accounting for around 2.8 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent (GtCO2e) per year. Cement-related emissions have nearly doubled their share of global greenhouse gas emissions—rising from 2.8 percent in 1990 to 5.5 percent in 2010, reaching more than 2.6 GtCO2e per year.

Decarbonisation of our energy system, (i.e., the transition towards net-zero CO2 emissions), can be achieved through higher energy efficiency, a zero-carbon electricity supply, electrification of residual demand, and zero-carbon fuels.

While these measures can set the buildings and transport sectors onto an emissions pathway compatible with the Paris Agreement’s long-term temperature goal, this is not sufficient for industry, especially in steel and cement production.

The analysis finds that improvements in efficiency, decarbonisation of the energy supply for both steel and cement and a move towards circular value chains can lead to significant emissions reductions. CAT’s latest study found that the combined effect is estimated to be an around 30%–50% reduction compared to current trends by 2050. This is a good start, but not the near-complete decarbonisation required for the Paris goal by around 2050.

“In short, emissions from these industrial processes are a difficult nut to crack, as large chunks of them are not related to conventional fossil fuel combustion,” said Sebastian Sterl of NewClimate Institute, one of the lead authors of the study.

The CAT looked at three different scenarios for the steel and cement industries, using country case studies for the EU, China and Nigeria. One scenario follows current trends, one represents a shift towards decarbonisation of the energy supply, and one represents steps towards circular value chains.

“To reach the Paris Agreement’s goal of net zero emissions by the second half of this century, we will need solutions for both of these industries, including increased R&D into innovative, low-emission production processes such as routes using carbon capture and storage (CCS) or renewables-based hydrogen,” according to Lindee Wong of Ecofys, a Navigant company.

“It will also require a shift to using materials more efficiently, as well as substitution with lower emissions-intensive alternatives,” added Dr. Ursula Fuentes of Climate Analytics.

Previous publications in the CAT Decarbonisation series focused on transport, buildings and power.

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