Concrete is Worse for the Climate Than Flying. Why Aren’t More People Talking About It?

Over the past 20 years, cement manufacturers have quietly doubled their carbon dioxide emissions, highlighting a sector that has received relatively little public scrutiny despite contributing nearly three times as much to global warming as the airline industry. With cement production only expected to increase through mid-century, a growing number of people are now calling for a more concerted effort to tackle concrete’s expanding carbon footprint.

Scientists say that the cement industry will need to decrease its annual emissions by at least 16 percent by 2030 to be in line with the Paris Agreement. But between 2002 and 2021, the industry’s global emissions doubled from 1.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide to nearly 2.9 billion tons, according to data from the CICERO Center for International Climate Research and the Global Carbon Project that was shared with the Associated Press.

Cement manufacturing now accounts for at least 8 percent of all the world’s CO2 emissions. In comparison, aviation accounts for about 2.8 percent of total global emissions, according to a 2020 report from the International Energy Agency.

“Cement emissions have grown faster than most other carbon sources,” Rob Jackson, a climate scientist at Stanford University who leads the Global Carbon Project, told the AP, adding that the climbing emissions can largely be tied to increased manufacturing in China.

Used to build much of the infrastructure that enables today’s modern society—think roads, bridges, buildings and even the ground you walk on—concrete is the second-most widely used substance on Earth, behind only water. And according to the IEA, the cement sector is the third-largest consumer of energy and the second-largest emitter of carbon dioxide when looking at industrial players alone.

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