Create Low-Carbon Economy

The Paris Agreement, sets a global target that requires tremendous efforts of all sectors to combat climate change. The transition to a lower-carbon economy creates opportunities, as well as challenges. The European chemical industry wants to seize the opportunities arising from this transition. Further reduction of its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions requires investments and continued innovation in technologies.

Note that all graphs below are clickable to enlarge.

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.

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.

Reducing GHG emissions

To limit the increase of the global average temperature to well below 2°C, and preferably 1.5°C in line with the Paris agreement, the world’s absolute greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced. Scope 1 GHG emissions, resulting from production processes, and scope 2 GHG emissions, related to the generation of purchased energy, of the chemical industry are followed up actively to map the progress. Scope 3 emissions on a sectoral level have not been mapped yet, due to the high diversity of product portfolios and complex value chains in the chemical industry.

Scope 1 GHG Emissions

Between 1997-2013, the chemical industry reduced its scope 1 GHG emissions by 50% thanks to technological improvements in some major production processes. The GHG emissions show an overall decreasing trend, while the production index increased, showing a first successful reduction. Since 2013, the reduction rate of the GHG emissions has slowed down. The chemical industry is looking into the development of emerging technologies 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)
  • emissions directly from production processes

The emissions from production processes decreased by 67% between 1990 and 2020 mainly due to a significant reduction of nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions (94%) and fluorinated gases emissions (89%). The emissions due to combustion decreased less.

GHG emissions from combustion of fuels and production processes

Sustainable-Development-Indicators-SDI-2023 - Figure 1.1 - Total scope 1 GHG emissions_without titel

GHG emissions per type of GHG


The decline of nitrous oxide (N2O), which has a higher global warming potential than carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4), was achieved 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). Disruptive emission reductions over a brief period of 2 to 3 years occurred also in the production process of other products. For fluorochemicals this reduction was a result of phase-out of production of these chemicals due to regulation. The chemical sector continues to invest in the research for innovative solutions for the other production processes.

GHG emission intensity*

Sustainable-Development-Indicators-SDI-2023 - Figure 1.3 - GHG emission intensity (LC-3)_without titel
*GHG emission scope 1 index and the production index

Scope 2 GHG Emissions

Scope 2 emissions, estimated based on electricity consumption and location-based emission factors, decreased by 58% between 1990-2019. This is a result of a decreased electricity consumption of the sector, which decreased by 13,6% over the same period, and a shift to low-carbon and renewable electricity sources in the EU member states.

Chemical companies can impact these scope 2 emissions by striving for power contracts with a higher share of low-carbon electricity. Multiple chemical companies have already signed Power Purchase Agreements with the power sector to increase its consumption of low-carbon electricity. These shifts might not always be captured in the scope 2 GHG emissions that were calculated using the average GHG emissions factor for the electricity mix of individual member states. Therefore, it should be mentioned that there is a limitation to this method, since it is difficult to differentiate between the performance in transition to low-carbon electricity by our sector and that of other sectors in the different member states.

Scope 2 GHG emissions (EU27)

Sustainable-Development-Indicators-SDI-2023 - Figure 1.4 - GHG emissions scope 2 (LC-4)_without titel

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 (link to circular economy)

Examples of publicly announced Power Purchased Agreements for renewable electricity from chemical companies

BorealisFortum100 GWk/y8 yearsFinlandBorealis group2024
BASFEngie825 GWk/y25 yearsSpainEngie2022
BorealisAxpo100 GWk/y9 yearsGermanyAxpo2022
Dow128 MWFrance, Germany
Spain, Sweden, UK
Renewables now
Air LiquideTotalEnergies15 GWh/y15 yearsBelgiumChemical engineering

Associated SDG targets

UN SDG 9 - Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
SDG 12-ResponsibleConsumptionAndProduction
SDG Goal 13 Climate Action
SDG14 Life below water

Improve energy efficiency of production processes

Improving energy efficiency in the energy-intensive chemical sector is a determining economic success factor, and 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. Natural gas and electricity are the most important sources for the energy provision, respectively 37% and 28% in 2020. Oil and petroleum products used as energy source* peaked in the late nineties but decreased slowly during the last two decades to around 15%. Energy consumption out of solid fossil fuels was already relatively low in 1990 and decreased further by 68% over the period 1990-2020. Electricity consumption is expected to increase in the transition to climate neutrality. It will be important to have increased availabilities of low-carbon electricity.

* It is important to keep in mind that natural gas, oil and petroleum products are not only used as energy source, but also as feedstock, see Connect Circular Economy.

Final energy consumption by EU chemical industry

Share of total energy consumption by source in 2020

Sustainable-Development-Indicators-SDI-2023 - Figure 1.6 - Share of total energy consumption (LC-8)_without titel

Energy efficiency*

*Energy efficiency expressed by production of chemicals (million tons) over energy consumption (GWh) 

The amount of chemical products produced per amount of energy consumed increased by 20% over the period 2006-2020 showing an increased energy efficiency of the European chemical sector. Global economic crises in 2009, 2016 and 2020 show a negative impact on the energy efficiency of the production processes in the chemical industry. Due to decreased production during a crisis, installations might run on suboptimal levels leading to decreased energy efficiencies. This is confirmed by lower production volumes in weight in 2019 and 2020 (Prodcom).

Key levers for industry activity & company examples

1. Implementing an energy management system

2. Improving energy-efficiency continuously

3. Increase interconnectivity between neighboring manufacturing plants & communities in exchanging waste energy (for instance, heating & cooling, steam, etc.)

Associated SDG targets

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