Climate challenge: Cut the ‘gray carbon wedge’ of industrial emissions

(ACEEE blog, 12 Dec 2018) Recent major climate reports highlight public interest in addressing climate change. There is broad agreement that we won’t achieve carbon reduction goals without cutting emissions from the industrial sector, which accounts for more than a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Unfortunately, emissions from industry have received far less attention than those from electricity production, buildings, and transportation. Industrial emissions, described by some as an amorphous “gray carbon wedge,” come from an economic sector that’s exceedingly complex. Understanding them is challenging, and solutions will be both complicated and multifaceted.

I recently gained insights into these questions at a week-long Industrial Decarbonization Workshop, organized by the Aspen Global Change Institute (AGCI) and funded by the Hewlett Foundation. AGCI staff and the event co-chairs convened industrial energy experts from around the world to better define the challenges and propose solutions. Energy efficiency plays a critical role in reducing industrial emissions, as previous ACEEE research has indicated.

These emissions are dominated globally by several carbon intensive industries: cement, iron and steel, fertilizers and chemicals. In the United States, cement is less important, because we don’t have the scope of infrastructure investments as do some developing economies, such as India and sub-Saharan Africa. However, focusing on just these large emitting industries will not reduce emissions enough to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. The entire industrial sector will need to reduce them.

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ACEEE blog, 12 Dec 2018: Climate challenge: Cut the ‘gray carbon wedge’ of industrial emissions