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Chief Executive's Upfront
Concrete & Zero Carbon: Meeting Demand Sustainably

Thursday, 8 August 2019  
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Concrete NZ supports the rationale behind the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill, which seeks to ensure New Zealand plays its part in reducing greenhouse gas emissions under the Paris Agreement.

Rob Gaimster, Chief Executive

The proposed legislation establishes a clearly defined, long-term, emissions target, with a pathway steered by medium-term emissions budgets and guided by an independent Climate Change Commission.

While global production of concrete is increasing to meet demand, the industry here in New Zealand is fully on board with efforts to satisfy that need as sustainably as possible.

Cement clinker production is an inherently carbon intensive process, and cement companies are unable to reach zero carbon emissions with current technology. This is because the production process is primarily driven by the base chemical reaction resulting from the decarbonisation of limestone in the cement kiln.

Furthermore, cement manufacturing plants are capital intensive and operate on a twenty-year reinvestment/upgrade cycle. Implementation of any new technologies or changes to cement manufacture will add significant business cost and would need to be incorporated into a broader long–term investment plan.

Recommendations for a transition to a low emissions economy must therefore remain practical, pragmatic and achievable, be based on known and commercially viable technologies and processes, and also account for raw material availability, supply chain dynamics and customer/market demands on ‘quality’.

Setting-up a Climate Change Commission is sensible as it provides long-term certainty in terms of policy direction and ‘depoliticises’ the subject. It must ensure however, that its decisions are fact-based and deliver pragmatic emission reduction results.

The Commission will have to consider the potentially conflicting objectives of growing prosperity (and increasing population) whilst meeting climate change objectives. The Commission must adopt a balanced approach.

This could be achieved through Commission consultation with the cement and concrete industry while emissions budgets are being set. This would enable the mechanisms of the Bill to provide certainty and clarity for long-term investment cycles.

While cement clinker production is energy intensive, concrete production is not. Cement is a relatively small (but crucial) ingredient in concrete. It would be a perverse outcome if the proposed legislation impacted on concrete volumes in New Zealand which are vital to support infrastructure and construction.

Indeed, concrete’s role in mitigating the effects of climate change is important moving forward e.g. for coastal defences and flood protection.  Concrete also removes CO2 from the air through carbonation, whereby the carbon atom is fixated into calcium carbonate and locked into the concrete - absorbing atmospheric CO2 over its lifetime.

Furthermore, with the sophisticated lifecycle tools now available, concrete’s contribution to minimising a building’s carbon footprint through various mechanisms, such as passive solar design and the CO2 sequestration, can be validated in a quantitative way, rather than focusing on embodied carbon at the point of construction.

It is crucial that the Bill does not create conditions that undermine our concrete industry and disadvantage established local employers against competing materials.

The cement and concrete industry uphold the following principles in supporting a net zero carbon economy by 2050 and is committed to a pathway towards decarbonisation. 

Concrete NZ sees several areas which will contribute to the goal of Zero Carbon:

  1. Reducing carbon intensity via alternate fuels and carbon capture all have potential roles in the manufacture of clinker. Policy and regulations must support this.
  2. Reduction of clinker in cement through technology improvements and change in standards and specifications. In this regard, a government innovation fund could be established to enable the uptake of new technologies.
  3. Ongoing access to Supplementary Cementitious Materials, both domestically and internationally, and updated standards and specifications, to allow a reduction in cement use through the uptake of low embodied carbon cement alternatives.
  4. Where it is not technically feasible to completely decarbonise, access to carbon offset credits in a free and open market.
  5. A transition to low or zero emission transport.
  6. An education programme to inform industry of new requirements to achieve goals.

Adapting industry processes to recognise the impacts of climate change is equally as important as setting future emissions reduction targets and budgets - policies and regulations need to take this into account.

In short, the cement and concrete industry supports the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill and is committed to being part of a considered move away from fossil fuels that is based on policies that ensure construction materials are treated equitably in the carbon market.