Create Low-Carbon Economy


The Paris Agreement, the international treaty on climate change linked to the UN-SDGs, sets a target that requires tremendous efforts of all sectors combating climate change, but the transition also creates opportunities. The European chemical industry wants to seize the opportunities arising from the transition to a climate neutral and circular economy. To further reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions the industry needs to improve the energy efficiency of its production processes, as well as increase its share of renewable energy. This will require investments in breakthrough technologies to further improve energy efficiency within the production processes. It also requires a further increase of the share of sustainable and renewable energy and low carbon feedstock, industry activities within two other sustainability focus areas of Cefic. The first one is improving resource efficiency by optimising the use of feedstock and by minimising waste of production processes. The second one is transitioning towards a circular economy and keeping more carbon in the loop.

Reducing GHG emissions

To limit global average temperature increase following the Paris agreement to well below 2°C, preferably 1.5°C, the world’s absolute greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced. The aim is to try to limit the consequences of climate change – such as sea level rise, extreme weather events, and acidification of oceans – as much as possible. These consequences are a huge risk for the environment, society, and economy.

Scope 1 GHG Emissions

There was a 50% decrease of the scope 1 GHG emissions in the chemical sector, which was realised mainly in the period 1997-2013, to a substantial extent because of technological improvements in some major production processes (fig. 1.1). Since 2013, the reduction rate has slowed down. The chemical industry is however looking into developments to continue on a reduction path.

The scope 1 GHG emissions in the chemical industry can be divided into two types of emission sources: emissions resulting from the on-site combustion of fuels to generate energy (utilities), and emissions directly from production processes . The emissions from production processes show a decrease of about 65% between 1990 and 2019 mainly due to a significant reduction of nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions (92.5%) and fluorinated gas emissions (89%) (fig. 1.2). The emissions due to combustion decrease less.

Total scope 1 – GHG emissions* by the EU27 chemical industry

Total scope 1 – GHG emissions* by the EU27

The decline of nitrous oxide (N2O), which has a higher global warming potential than carbon dioxide (CO2), was mainly due to technological changes in the production processes. Technological improvements in the production process of nitric and adipic acid, for example, explains that almost 50% of the total reduction since 1990 occurred in a brief period of 3 years (2007-2010) (fig. 1.3). Disruptive emission reductions over a brief period of 2 to 3 years occurred in the production process of other products. For fluorochemicals this reduction was a result of phase-out in production due to regulation. The chemical sector is investing further into a search for innovative disruptive solutions for the other production processes.

GHG intensity

GHG emissions intensity based on the production index has decreased with 67%, while the production index increased with 49% and the GHG emissions index decreased with 51%. This means that the growth in production within the chemical industry is successfully decoupled from the GHG emissions. However, no further improvement is observed after 2015.

GHG emission intensity of the EU27 chemical industry

Key levers for industry activity & company examples

1. Improving technologies to reduce direct GHG emissions in production

2. Improving energy-efficiency continuously

3. Switching to low-carbon and renewable alternatives for energy and electricity sources

4. CO2 capture and utilisation

Contribution to the EU Green Deal

Cefic supports Europe’s ambition to become the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. By reducing GHG emissions, the industry is working towards the EU’s ambitions for climate neutrality, clean energy and zero pollution.

Associated SDG

UN SDG 9 - Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
SDG-Goal-11-sustainableCitiesAndCommunities
SDG 12-ResponsibleConsumptionAndProduction
SDG Goal 13 Climate Action

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Improve energy efficiency of production processes

Improving energy efficiency in the energy-intensive chemical sector is a determining economic success factor, but also an important instrument to further reduce GHG emissions and thus facilitate the transition to climate-neutrality.

Total energy consumption

The total energy consumption decreased by 21% since 1990, although the production index has increased by 49%. This is due to large improvements in energy efficiency and energy recovery in production processes, such as the use of combined heat and power units, and a shift to higher value-added, lower energy intensive products. Natural gas and electricity are the most important sources for the energy provision, respectively 35% and 28%. Oil and petroleum products peaked in the late nineties but decreased slowly during the last two decades. Energy consumption out of oil and petroleum products used for energy provision decreased with 23%. Energy consumption out of solid fossil fuels was already relatively low in 1990 and decreased further with 64% over the period 1990-2019.

Final energy consumption by the EU27 chemical industry

Total energy consumption in the EU27 chemical industry by source (%)

Energy intensity* by the EU27 chemical industry

There is a clear decoupling between the production of chemicals and energy consumption by the sector over the period 1991-2006 due to diverse measures taken by the industry to improve energy efficiency while production increased.

Key levers for industry activity & company examples

1.Increase interconnectivity neighboring manufacturing plants & communities in exchanging waste energy (f.e. heating & cooling, steam, etc.)

2. Implementing an energy management system

3. Improving energy-efficiency continuously

Contribution to the EU Green Deal

The European commission aims with the EU Green Deal to develop cleaner energy and cutting-edge technological innovation to reduce GHG emissions and enhance the quality of life of European citizens. It prioritises boosting energy efficiency and eco-design of products. Reducing energy consumption, improving energy efficiency of production processes, and switching to low-carbon alternatives will contribute to this goal. Also, by switching to circular solutions, where the lifetime of more products can be prolonged, or more products can be re-used, less energy is required.

Associated SDG

SDG 7 - Affordable And Clean Energy
UN SDG 9 - Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
SDG Goal 13 Climate Action

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