When writing about climate change and how to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, the focus in Britain tends to be on renewable energy and energy efficiency. Rightly so. A third of our emissions by source are from the residential sector (more on that again soon), so reducing waste at the household level is a real priority.
Reading Sustainable Materials Without the Hot Air this week, I was struck at how different the challenge is in China. As a manufacturing powerhouse and rapidly developing country, manufacturing and construction accounts for two thirds of emissions by source.
That makes action on climate change a very different beast in China. Household efficiency is a footnote in this context, with sustainable industry the big priority.
That’s something we hear relatively little about, but if we look at the composition of that 67%, we can see what we’re talking about here. A third of that is steel production, a quarter is cement. Chemicals and plastics produce 17% of industry emissions, aluminium and other metals a further 13%. Textiles, food and paper round out the total.
Reducing Chinese emissions will involve the transition to renewable energy and sustainable transport that we’re familiar with – not least because the infrastructure boom won’t last forever and the dominance of steel and concrete will ease. But to really make a difference in the time frame of climate change, it will also involve some extra things: innovation around steel production, more efficient use of steel, and closer re-use and recycling loops for metals. And sustainable alternatives to concrete, design for lower concrete use, and perhaps even re-usable concrete building components.
The world needs these innovations, because China is not the last country that will rapidly develop. Many other countries, particularly in Africa, could benefit from Chinese innovation around sustainable industry and construction in future.