Chemistry is Key

At Doha Climate Conference ICCA Presented Roadmap for Building Efficiency

14.12.2012 -

Before the opening of COP-18 on November 26, if you'd asked anyone -- an environmentalist, an industrialist, the proverbial man or woman on the street -- what they thought what the conference of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference might achieve, the answer probably would have been "not much."

Asked after the closing on December 7, what they thought the conference had achieved, the same people probably would have given much the same answer. Expectations have reached a low point after 20 years of international meetings without a spectacular breakthrough or even a binding agreement.

At all stations along the road to combating global warming -- from the timid beginnings at the 1992 climate conference in Rio de Janeiro to the much-quoted "protocol" drawn up in Kyoto, from the shattered hopes of Copenhagen to the nervous expectation in the sweltering streets of Doha -- nearly 200 nations have continuously wrangled over who should lead the way, how much greenhouse gases (GHG) must be cut, how fast this should happen and how much it is allowed to cost.

Who's To Blame?

In the dispute over who's to blame for the lack of progress, popular scapegoats have traditionally been, and still are, the U.S. and China. This year, Europe's internal squabbles have trained the spotlight on this continent's failings. Poor countries continue to blame wealthy ones for not setting a positive example. Oil-rich nations that literally have money to burn are accused of paying little more than lip service to emissions control.
Up to now, media coverage has focused on the world's inability to solve the climate problem globally, and many Europeans never tire of pointing out the unfairness of having to bear the heaviest burden. But the hype aside, the realization seems to be sinking in, some long-term observers say, that taking many "baby steps, "rather than one giant stride, could be the key to progress.

Modest Goals

In the run-up to the Doha talks, the most optimistic pundits saw as at least attainable the completion of the framework on emissions and controls, along with expanding incentives to encourage greater energy efficiency at homes and businesses. One modest goal was to interest all levels of the private sector in the new technologies, materials and processes required for better insulation, more efficient tools and appliances, and more affordable low-emission vehicles.

That industry can be as much as part of the solution as it is perceived to be part of the problem apparently is being finally appreciated. To highlight how its products and technologies can help boost energy efficiency, the International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA), a federation of chemical industry associations worldwide, was invited to Doha as an observer. On the final day of the event, the association presented its new roadmap on energy efficiency in building.

The Need For Action

Chemical producers are convinced that energy efficiency is the area where there is broadest consensus on the need for action, Dow Chemical's Russell Mills, vice chair of ICCA's energy and climate leadership group, told journalists in a pre-conference briefing. And, he said, chemistry is key, playing a central role both in terms of cost efficient reductions in energy consumption and providing technologies to decarbonize energy production.
According to the International Energy Agency's (IEA) Energy Technology Perspectives 2012 report, the building sector is directly or indirectly responsible for about 32% of global energy consumption and 26% of global total end-use, energy-related CO2 emissions. With this in mind, ICCA believes the overarching goal of cutting GHG 80-95% by 2050 will be only possible with major contributions from the building sector.

In combination with lower-carbon fuel, the association calculates that five chemically-derived building technologies -- insulation, pipe and pipe insulation, air sealing, reflective roof coatings and pigments, and windows -- can potentially reduce energy consumption by 41% and greenhouse gas emissions by 70% up to 2050. At the same time, the cumulative net GHG saving in Europe, Japan and the U.S. could total 30 billion metric tons of CO2 equivalents.

Over time, the ICCA roadmap shows that the emission savings realized by users of the chemically derived building components are "many times greater than the energy and GHG impacts for their production" and, moreover, the products "continue to accrue phase savings throughout their life in the building."

Chemical Industry made Great Strides

Chemical producers point out that the industry already has made "great strides" in improving energy efficiency in buildings and continues its commitment through participating in projects demonstrating the cost effectiveness of low-energy houses, passive houses and zero emissions buildings. Companies also sponsor life-cycle assessment studies to provide credible scientific data quantifying the benefits of chemically-derived building technologies as well as investing in R&D to develop more efficient products.

But in order to ensure that the full potential of energy saving products and building technologies is unfolded, ICCA stresses that other stakeholders in the value chain, especially in officialdom, must create the necessary regulatory environment, along with providing incentives to increase renovation rates and foster new technology.