Concrete Solutions for Combatting Climate Change

During the last week, industry insiders, government officials, lobbyist, and community stakeholders from around the world descended upon Poland for COP24. A main goal of this conference was to reaffirm and advance objectives set out in the Paris Agreement. Notable headlines included the US “clean coal” agenda, China solidifying its position as an influencer in climate policy, and the growing divide between those most vulnerable to the effects of climate change and those who are far removed. 

What remains abundantly clear, combatting climate change is a multi-faceted, complicated problem. However, sacrifices in the short-term must be made to ensure the long-term health of our planet is secured. This is epitomized by the need to transition away from the use cheap cement in infrastructure development and construction projects across the world in favor of some more climate-friendly material. 

Cement has been one of the most important resources in the growth and interconnectivity of countries across the globe. Through its use, communities, cities, and regions have been able to complete a vast network of roads, bridges, buildings, and dams. The use of cement has, therefore, had a direct impact on countries’ economic development. A great example of this can be seen when comparing China’s relentless economic growth over the last 30 years and the unfettered expansion of its cities and infrastructure that support them. From this concrete base, infrastructure spending has led to increased manufacturing, trade flows, and development. 

This experience is not unique to China but has occurred around the world. Said simply, as the second most-consumed material in the world, cement plays a role in all industries and economies. What is often lost in the discussion of its importance, however, is the far reaching implications from its use. CO2 emissions from this cheap and versatile building material has a direct and obvious effect on global emissions.

China, the most prolific polluter, has an annual contribution of roughly five percent of global CO2 emissions originating from cement production. Though the country has greatly benefited from development through investment in infrastructure, future economic growth for China must account for this negative consequence.  

Indeed, this transition must occur worldwide. It is imperative that the global community not surpass an average temperature rise of 1.5C, as laid out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). To combat the causes of climate change, all industries must do what is necessary to become more sustainable, even if that means sacrificing short-term growth for the sake of future generations. Specific to infrastructure development, changes must be made to ensure the reliance on high-emission materials is quickly decreased.