The new political framework, set out by the Strategic Agenda and the Political Guidelines, has set bold priority areas for the next five years. In preparation for the new policy cycle, CEFIC, the European Chemical Industry Council, has launched its Mid-Century Vision which paints a plausible path towards a prosperous, more sustainable Europe in the year 2050.
Future trends are transforming the world we live in and shaping the current political dialogue. As digitalization revolutionizes our lives, Europe will grasp digital opportunities within safe and ethical boundaries, filling a skills gap for much-needed jobs. As climate change transforms our planet, Europe aspires to zero pollution, a circular economy, net neutrality, and more, through its ambitious Green Deal. And meanwhile, as global politics, trade and economies are becoming increasingly fragmented, Europe will build a strong and vibrant economic base, equipped with an industrial policy fit for the future, stepping up investments in skills, education and more.
World trade will shape the future of the European chemical industry. With an extra EU export reaching €155 billion in 2017, our industry is an important player in the global market, closely followed by our biggest trading partners, China and the US.
Global trade dynamics are set to shift, as China works to take its chemical industry to the next level, and by 2030 will likely account for more than half of global chemical production. The US, on the other hand, is expected to significantly increase its production, driven by shale gas.
European Solutions to Global Challenges
As set out by the Mid-Century Vision, Europe will need to define its own “European Way” forward; one which capitalizes on its unique strengths by offering European solutions to global challenges and helps the chemical industry blaze a trail for European industry.
The “European Way” means putting the protection of human health and the environment at the center of the political agenda. It also means leading on new societal and industrial models while aiming for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050; driving the circular economy to the point that almost everything that can be recycled will be recycled; converting waste to new raw materials, right here in Europe; embracing digitalization and investing heavily in science, technology, engineering and mathematics education; and putting the United National Sustainable Development Goals and its successors at the core of European politics and business models.
We believe the European chemical industry can flourish as it helps Europe achieve its highly ambitious political goals.
The outreach and scope of the European chemical sector is far-reaching; employing 1.2 million highly qualified people directly in 28,000 companies, our sector supports around 19 million jobs across all supply chains.
We supply the fundamental building blocks to almost every other industry, and our technologies can drive exponential innovation. For instance:
New technologies like chemical recycling and hydrogen for fuel cells will help us to move to a sustainable society.
Digital technology will have a big impact on production efficiency and transparency and will enable to track molecules throughout their life cycle, ensuring chemistry can help Europe produce more with less.
It also means collaborating with other industries to create greater economies of scale and make efficient use of raw materials and resources.
Plastics recycling remains a key challenge for our industry, and society at large. When it comes to creating solutions for every step of the life cycle of plastics and many products, our industry is highly engaged, and will be increasing its efforts. There are several ways to do this: mechanical, physical and chemical and molecular recycling. While mechanical recycling is the most common technology used today, it has some limitations: alone it is not sufficient to deal with the quality required by specific applications such as food packaging; it is not applicable to multi-material items or mixed plastics; and after a certain number of cycles, the plastic material starts to degrade. For these reasons, it is fundamental to develop new processes, allowing to bring the material back to the earlier stages of its life cycle.
Closing the Loop of Plastic Life Cycle
Chemical recycling enables plastics to return into new raw materials suitable for all applications, including food contact, which represents the most ambitious level of circularity. It also offers the possibility to handle multilayer and mixed plastics waste, and also plastics that have lost their initial quality due to multiple cycles of mechanical recycling. The development of innovative chemical recycling technologies capable to turn waste into new plastics identical to virgin plastics represents a real game changer to close the loop of plastic life cycle.
Chemistry has a significant role to play in building the pathway for low-carbon and circular economy, by investing into realistic technological solutions. New and disruptive technologies can enable our economy to grow while reducing its environmental footprint. We must now support these innovative efforts, and make sure these solutions are developed in Europe, rather than imported.
The potential is huge, and the truth is, while our industry is working on this, we don’t have all the answers and we can’t do this alone.
Building a Better Future
The European chemical industry shares the same goals and fundamental values as most people: a world that is cleaner, healthier and more inclusive, a world in which the transition to climate neutrality is fair, and in which Europe — and the European chemical industry — remain global leaders.
We will need to work together with governments, industry and society at large, to find the best answers to our common challenges. We hope you’ll join us to build the future we all want and need: a “European Way” that leads to success.