Environmental Performance

EU27 scope 1 GHG emissions fall 55% since 1990

Total scope 1 GHG emissions

FactsandFigures2023_ch7_1_Total scope 1 GHG emissions by the EU27 chemical industry_without titel

Cefic and its members identified critical areas to progress sustainable development addressing the ambitions formulated in the Cefic Sustainability Charter ‘Teaming up for a Sustainable Europe’. Within each of the areas key industry activities, where action and innovation are required to meet the goals set in the UN Global Agenda 2030 and in the EU Green Deal, were identified. The areas to progress are the following 1) Create low carbon economy, 2) Conserve resource efficiency, 3) Connect circular economy, and 4) Care for people and planet. The sustainable development indicators presented in this chapter reflect particularly the progress made by the chemical sector.

Create low carbon economy: Cefic supports the European ambition to be the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. The EU chemical industry will enable the transition and will grasp the opportunities arising from the transition to a climate neutral and circular economy. The industry will further reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. This will require investments in breakthrough technologies to further improve energy efficiency within the production processes and a further increase of the share of sustainable and renewable energy and low carbon feedstock.

Reducing GHG emissions: To limit the global average temperature increase,, following the Paris agreement, to well below 2°C, (preferably 1.5°C), absolute greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced. Reducing the net emissions by at least 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 and being climate-neutral by 2050 is essential to try to limit the consequences of climate change as much as possible as these consequences, such as sea level rise, extreme weather events and acidification of oceans, are a huge risk for industry and society.

GHG Emissions scope 1: The GHG emissions scope 1 in the chemical industry can be divided into two types of emission sources, namely emissions resulting from the on-site combustion of fuels to generate energy (utilities) and emissions directly from production processes. According to the European Environmental Agency (EEA), the EU27 chemical industry emitted a total of 120 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent in 2020, down from a total of 269 million tonnes in 1990. Between 1997 and 2013, the chemical industry reduced its scope 1 GHG emissions by 50% thanks to technological improvements in some major production processes. Since 2013, the reduction rate has slowed down. The chemical industry is however looking into developing new technologies to continue on a reduction path.

EU27 scope 1 GHG emissions fall by 149 million tonnes (CO2) since 1990

Total scope 1 GHG emissions per type of GHG

FactsandFigures2023_ch7_2_Total scope 1 GHG emissions per type of GHG by the EU27_without titel

The emissions out of the production processes showed a decrease of about 55% between 1990 and 2020 mainly due to significant decreases of N2O emissions (94%) and fluorinated gas emissions (94%). The emissions due to combustion decreased less, resulting in an overall decrease of the GHG emissions scope 1 in the chemical sector around 50%, which was realized mainly in the period 1997-2013. Since 2013, no significant reductions of GHG emissions were observed. All in all, the total EU27 GHG emissions have fallen by 149 million tonnes (CO2) from 1990 to 2020.

EU27 chemical production and greenhouse gas emissions decouple

Total GHG emissions and production in the EU27 chemical industry


The 55% decrease in EU27 GHG emissions between 1990 and 2020 is remarkable given that, at the same time, production in the EU27 chemical industry expanded by 43%. This means that the growth in production within the chemical industry is successfully decoupled from the GHG emission. However, less significant improvement is observed since 2013.

Thanks to the chemical industry’s conscious effort to develop cleaner technologies, and above all to increase energy efficiency. Besides increasing energy efficiency of its own processes, innovations in the chemical industry also help to increase the energy efficiency of downstream users and their products.

EU27 GHG intensity plummets significantly since 1990

Total EU27 GHG emissions and energy consumption in the EU27 chemical industry

FactsandFigures2023_ch7_4_Total EU27 GHG emissions and energy consumption in the EU27_without titel

Over the last two decades, the EU27 chemical industry has made an enormous effort to minimise the environmental impact of its production.

EU27 GHG emissions per unit of energy consumption fell by 45% between 1990 and 2020. GHG intensity – EU27 GHG emissions per unit of production – fell by 69% from 1990 to 2020.

EU27 chemical waste fall by nearly one third since 2007

Hazardous and Non-Hazardous waste in the EU27 chemical industry


Conserve resource efficiency: Economic growth within the environmental constraints requires a different, much more efficient way of dealing with natural resources. It is set as one of the three objectives in the 7th EU Environment Action Programme to turn the EU into a resource-efficient, green and competitive low-carbon economy. Therefore, the chemical industry focuses on a different design of materials leading to improved resource efficiency in the production process, the use-phase as well as the end-of-life. Improved resource efficiency will be reflected in the way how water and waste in the sector is managed but is also a crucial step towards circular economy and reduced GHG emissions.   

Resource efficiency of production processes, gaining economic as well as ecological benefits, is also reflected in the amount of waste produced. Waste prevention has been, is and will be a priority within the chemical industry but more and more attention is given to stimulate reuse and recycling, both important steps towards a successful circular economy.

The total amount of industrial waste generated by the chemical industry varies between 8 and 16 million metric tonnes of which less than 47% is hazardous waste. The global economic recession in 2008-2009 resulted clearly in a reduced amount of waste. This amount increased over the period 2009 till 2013. From 2014 till 2017, the waste generated has been fluctuating and no clear trend can be distinguished.

Total number of accidents dropped by 22% in the EU27 chemical industry since 2010

EU27 number of accidents at work: chemicals vs industry


Care for people and planet:

  • Design products and processes and continuously improve the environmental, health and safety performance throughout the life cycle of the products to avoid harm to people and the environment. This is the basis of the global chemical industry’s voluntary initiative Responsible Care® as well as from the Safe and sustainable-by-design concept part from the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability. Design for sustainability focuses on the safety during production, safety of the production process and of chemical safety and aims to reduce its environmental footprint by reducing emissions and help to protect biodiversity.

Operational safety:

  • Safety is the key factor for the chemical industry to protect and promote the wellness of both employees, the driving force of the sector making the difference, and employers. The chemical industry strives continuously for zero accidents through a strongly embedded safety culture.

Total accidents at work:

  • The number of total accidents at work (fatal and non-fatal) in the EU27 chemical sector dropped significantly from 2010 to 2019; a decrease of 22% (green line of the chart). The number of accidents dropped on average by 2.7% per annum between 2010 and 2019. On the manufacturing side (orange line of the chart), the number of total accidents at work decreased by 21% (from 739.2 thousand in 2010 to 587 thousand in 2019). However, we see an increase in the total number of accidents in the EU27 chemical industry from 2014 to 2016 (13.1 to 15.4 thousand) and from 2017 to 2019 (13.2 to 14.7 thousand).

Fatal accidents at work:  

  • The statistics show that the number of fatal accidents at work in the EU27 chemical sector dropped by 5.2% per annum between 2010 and 2017. The year 2018 has shown a spike in number of casualties. We cannot be satisfied with this trend, considering that one fatality is always one too much. The Responsible Care programme has at its core the need to safeguard health and safety performance aiming for zero fatal accidents. 

Accidental pollutant releases by the EU27 chemicals industry

Accidental Pollutant Releases in the EU27 chemicals industry


Maximize process safety:

  • The chemical industry strives to maximize its process safety to avoid the accidental release of chemicals to the environment. Accidental release might impact human health as well as the environmental status but can also create unsafe working conditions.

Accidental pollutant releases:

  • Accidental pollutant releases to air and water show a slightly increasing trend. For pollutant release to land, no clear trend can be distinguished.

EU27 acidifying emissions fall by more than 60% since 2007

Acidifying emissions in the EU27 chemicals industry


Use Best Available Techniques (BAT) to minimise emissions to water and air and to retrofit chemical plants: the chemical industry invests continuously in the improvement of their production plants. Best Available Techniques are implemented to optimise production and to minimise emissions to the environment

Emission of air pollutants: Between 2007 and 2019, the chemical industry achieved a 40% reduction in its acidifying emissions. Some emissions, such as sulphur oxides (SOx), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and ammonia (NH3), together with their reaction products, lead after their deposition to changes in the chemical composition of the soil and receiving surface water.

This process interferes with ecosystems, leading to what is termed ‘acidification’ affecting the soils’ and water bodies’ health. In the chemical industry, potentially acidifying gases originate mainly from combustion and the production of sulphuric acid, ammonia, and nitric acid.

EU27 emission to air fall by 70% since 2007

Methane and NMVOC emission (non-methane volatile organic compound)


The chemical sector has seen a strong decrease of NMVOC emissions since 2007 (European Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (E-PRTR) data). This is the result of a range of measures including process optimisation and improved emissions control during storage and transport.

NMVOCs are ozone precursors, and exposure to high levels of ozone can cause health issues. The majority of NMVOCs are emitted from natural sources and the rest from man-made sources, such as road transport, dry cleaning and solvents use. The largest source of man-made NMVOC emissions (approx. 50%) is from solvent and product use. The chemical sector contributed to this reduction through a change from solvent based to water-based paints, process optimisation to reduce emissions, and higher levels of solvent recycling.


Total organic carbon emissions by the EU27 chemical industry


Emission of water pollutants: The Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD) is an indication of the organic contamination load of wastewater. The COD have decreased significantly until 2012, but has slightly increased again until 2017. Revisions of the Common Wastewater BREF were done in 2003 and 2016 to which companies had to comply with by 2007 and 2020. The impact of the 2020 BREF might be visible in the trend in a few years once data for 2018-2020 is complete.

EU27 Nitrogen and Phosphorous Emissions significantly dropped since 2007

Total Nitrogen & Phosphorous Emissions to water by the EU27 chemical industry


The chemical sector saw an overall decreasing trend of over 51% in nitrogen (N) and 66% in phosphorous (P) emissions to water (per production unit) between 2007 and 2017. Revisions of the Common Wastewater BREF were done in 2003 and 2016 to which companies would have to comply by 2007 and 2020. The impact of the 2020 BREF might be visible in the trend in a few years once data for 2018-2020 is complete.

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