As world leaders and other stakeholders gather in Egypt for two weeks at the UN COP27 Climate Conference in Sharm El-Sheikh over the next two weeks to seek agreement and drive action on the most important matter of our time – the climate crisis – there is one industry that, if it takes action now, could be an important part of the solution. Egyptian companies also have an opportunity to lead this effort.
Concrete and its key binding ingredient cement are the backbone of the modern world. Anyone who has visited Egypt can see the significant amount of construction that is underway building homes, overpasses, and office buildings and that is set to continue for the foreseeable future.
Not only is this construction needed to accommodate Egypt’s growing population, but it is also an important part of the country’s economic growth and job creation.
With global temperatures continuing to rise, a renewed focus should be placed on commitments to cut down CO2 emissions. In order to accomplish this goal, the government and the private sector must work together with other stakeholders. Pledges need to be translated into effective action, and accomplishments need to be celebrated.
Whilst cement is one of the most crucial building materials of our time, it comes at a price. The global cement industry accounts for around seven per cent of global CO2 emissions, but in Egypt it is closer to 11 per cent. Globally, the cement industry has taken some important steps towards greening the industry, including the launch last year of a global 2050 roadmap for achieving net zero concrete. Forty international CEOs representing 80 per cent of global production outside China signed up to this important commitment to transition the industry to be more carbon efficient.
Egypt has a vibrant cement industry. As leaders in Africa, also the focus of the COP27 Conference, Egyptian companies, especially those with global affiliations, have shown a profound commitment to investing in clean technology. They have explored using alternative fuel, introducing more green-friendly products and investing in clean manufacturing processes.
Yet more is needed. Such actions will not achieve the desired results and contribute to attaining the wider goal of decarbonisation if they are done in the absence of clear policy guidance to support this effort by the government.
With the private and public sectors working together, Egypt can achieve an ambitious and inclusive roadmap for net-zero concrete. This roadmap will help to provide an important context for the industry to more ambitiously transition to net zero and position it to lead the continent in this direction.
It is important not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good in this regard. Egypt cannot wait until it achieves the perfect plan before acting. The construction industry can play its part in bringing down the carbon emissions of cement production now, especially since the tools are available to help reach these ambitious but necessary goals.
In order to achieve this object, there are some steps that can be addressed immediately in order to help the industry move forward towards cutting down its CO2 emissions. Those include:
- Reducing the CO2 content in cement. Many countries are now using cement with reduced CO2, but unfortunately Egyptian cement is still among those having the highest CO2 content in the world. Egyptian construction codes and cement standards should be updated to reflect the new types of greener building materials available globally. The Egyptian cement industry has the technology and the required know-how to match its international peers. Moreover, the necessary materials are available in-country, meaning that Egypt will not need to import them.
- Using alternative fuels. The manufacturing of cement requires a high amount of energy at around 50-60 per cent of each produced ton. The use of lower-emitting fossil fuels for production would make an important difference. Egypt is currently using high CO2-emitting fossil fuels to make cement instead of the greener refuse-derived fuel (RDF) and solid recovered fuel (SRF).
The use of waste as a fuel is totally safe due to the extremely high temperature reached in the process. The Egyptian cement industry has the technology and know-how to safely use the available waste in Egypt and reduce its dependence on imported combustible fuel (coal and coke). However, the volume of RDF and SRF produced in Egypt is not enough to meet the needs of the cement producers or allow factories to execute government decrees to use 10 per cent of RDF in the energy mix in the production of cement. One option to encourage this transition is to award the country’s cement factories a special and temporary licence to import RDF and SRF to help to bridge this gap.
- Discussing Carbon Capture Usage and Storage (CCUS). Ultimately, CCUS will reduce the remaining CO2 emissions after employing all other levers. Even if not a short-term solution, identifying the preconditions for CCUS deployment in Egypt through carbon-capture projects and storage hubs identification will help to start this process.
Change is always difficult. But it becomes more attainable when the challenge is clear and the means to overcome it are available. This is the time to take action. Hosting the COP27 Conference should catalyse Egypt at all levels – government, the private sector, civil society and individuals – to actively seek the path to mitigate climate change and CO2 emissions.
Egypt can play a leading role in the African continent through embracing a net-zero roadmap for the concrete and cement industry. It should not miss the opportunity.
*The writer is a former ambassador and industry expert.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 10 November, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.