Two views on India

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Research from the Global Carbon Budget (GCB) this week forecasts that fossil CO2 emissions from the Indian cement industry will rise by 13.4% in 2018. This is in stark contrast to the smooth mood music from the Cement Sustainability Initiative (CSI) last week, which stated that the local industry was on track to meet its commitments towards decarbonisation. So what’s going on?

The situation is akin to the fable about the blind men and the elephant. Both the GCB and the CSI are approaching the emissions of the Indian cement industry from different directions. The GCB is using available data (including data from the CSI) to try and estimate what the CO2 emissions are. It takes cement production data using a method adapted from a paper published by Robbie M Andrew of Norway’s CICERO Center for International Climate Research in 2018 and then it takes into account the types of cement being produced and the clinker factor. This is then converted into an estimated clinker production figure and this is then converted into a CO2 figure.

However, the CSI meanwhile actually has direct data from its local members. At the moment these include ACC, Ambuja Cements, CRH, Dalmia Cement (Bharat), HeidelbergCement, Orient Cement, Shree Cement, UltraTech and Votorantim Cimentos. As part of the Getting the Numbers Right (GNR) database it collects production and sustainability related data from its members. However, for reasons of competition, it maintains a year gap before it reports its data. This means that the GCB can report its estimate ahead of the CSI data.

There is nothing to stop the CSI reporting its progress against its targets though. And this is exactly what it has done in India with the recent document outlining progress towards the 2030 targets from the low carbon technology roadmap (LCTR). The headline CSI metric was direct CO2 emission intensity. According to the CSI, this has fallen by 32kgCO2/t cement to 588kgCO2/t cement in 2017 mainly due to an increased uptake of alternative fuel and blended cement production, as well as a reduction in the clinker factor. This is bang on target with its aim of hitting 320kgCO2/t in 2050 (around 560 kgCO2/t in 2020, assuming a linear decrease).

The problem is that cement production growth in India suddenly sped up in 2018. Global Cement estimates that India’s cement production is set to rise by 7% year-on-year to 296Mt in 2018 from 280Mt in 2017. Data from the Ministry of Commerce & Industry shows that cement production rose by nearly 16% year-on-year to 244Mt in the first nine months of 2018 from 211Mt in the same period in 2017. Along these lines the Cement Manufacturers Association of India has forecast growth of 10% in the 2019 financial year to the end of March 2019. It reckons that this is the fastest growth in the sector since the industry slowed down in 2011.

India’s per capita cement consumption is low (222kg/capita) and its urban population is also low (around 30%). That’s a lot of cement that’s going to be used as it shifts to developed global rates and already it’s the globe’s second biggest cement market. The CSI was right to get in there eight years ago. Yet, the question now is can CO2 emissions decrease whilst the market grows? Research in the US suggests that the real reason for emission drops in the 2010s was the economic recession, not policy shifts or changes in the energy mix. If that holds in India then the cement industry will have a hard time reducing its carbon footprint irrespective of the work the CSI has done.

Last modified on 12 December 2018


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