Over the last two weeks, the global community gathered once again to address climate change at COP28 in Dubai. While there has been much reporting on the conference highlights such as the commitment to a transition away from fossil fuels and movement on the loss & damage fund, we want to take a moment to reflect on the conference through an industrial decarbonization lens.   


The global progress on all climate goals as part of the Paris Agreement was assessed as part of the first global stocktake at COP28 this year. The evaluation confirmed we are not on track to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5℃. While action needs to be taken across all industries, the decarbonization of the manufacturing sector is particularly relevant due to its significant share of global greenhouse gas emissions –  approximately 20%. 


To address the need to decarbonize heavy-emitting sectors such as industry, the COP28 Presidency, United Nations Climate Change, and Bloomberg Philanthropies launched the Industrial Transition Accelerator (ITA). The ITA aims to connect existing decarbonization projects and companies with the public and private sectors to help new technologies reach commercial scale and expand the number of approved decarbonization projects with investment.


Looking to the cement industry,  the Global Cement and Concrete Association, released its 2023 progress report at the conference. According to the report the cement industry has achieved a 23% reduction in CO₂ per tonne of cementitious material since 1990. This decrease in emissions, while important, is only a 1% improvement on last year’s reported progress. As stated by the IEA the cement industry needs to reduce its carbon emissions by 4% each year through to 2030 to be on track for net zero by 2050. 


The good news is that we know that many of the technologies required to reduce emissions in both the cement industry and across the board already exist. The challenge is in scaling and accelerating the uptake of these technologies. We have previously assessed technologies available to the cement industry today with the potential to make an impact in the next decade – you can read it here


As outlined in our recent whitepaper, Levers of Change, decarbonization technologies are only one of many levers the cement industry has to drive decarbonization. The use of standards and regulations are also key enablers for cement decarbonization and this was recognised at COP with the launch of the Cement & Concrete Breakthrough Initiative. Co-led by Canada and the UAE, the initiative will enable countries to share best practices on policies and other measures to decarbonize cement and concrete production.


The signing of the Green Public Procurement Pledge by the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, and Germany highlights another positive step towards industrial decarbonization at COP. Public procurement accounts for up to 40% of the global demand for cement and represents a high share of consumption in key industries such as construction and infrastructure. In signing this pledge these countries have committed to drive demand for low and near-zero-emissions steel, cement, and concrete through public procurement; and to develop and use harmonized emissions accounting standards and definitions for construction materials


Although alternative fuel use is on the rise, fossil fuels continue to be the main source of thermal energy for the cement industry so the talks around the ‘transition away from fossil fuels’ by 2050 were of particular interest to the industrial sector. The UAE COP President claimed a historic victory with the new wording on fossil fuels in the global stocktake but the lack of specificity in the timing or action has attracted much negative feedback. Mary Robinson, chair of the Elders and former president of Ireland, said  “The Cop28 agreement, while signalling the need to bring about the end of the fossil fuel era, falls short by failing to commit to a full fossil fuel phase out.” While any progress towards the reduction of the use of fossil fuels is a step in the right direction, the industrial sector is unlikely to reduce its fossil fuel use at the rate required without firm timelines or regulations.