OPINION | Chemistry: Essential to Canada’s Transition to a Low Carbon Energy Future

By: Bob Masterson, President and CEO of the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada

The global chemistry industry has a complex relationship with climate change. Global chemical production accounts for 10 per cent of total energy demand, and seven per cent of GHGs. Yet, chemistry is a key input to 95 per cent of all manufactured products and is an essential solutions provider for climate challenged sectors such as buildings, transportation and agriculture. 

Canada’s building sector is responsible for 40 per cent of emissions. Foam-based insulation, however, can address heat loss and cooling demand. Their use avoids over 200 tonnes of buildings emissions for every tonne released during manufacture. Similarly, chemistry is delivering new refrigerants that keep buildings cool at a fraction of the emissions associated with historical refrigerants. Through the UN Kigali Accord, taking affect in 2019, these new refrigerants will avoid 0.5C of global temperature increases, making them the single largest contributor to addressing climate change to date.

Since 1992, GHGs from Canada’s transportation sector have increased by 33 per cent. Chemistry is developing and producing alternative fuels, lighter-weight and safer vehicles, and batteries for electric vehicles. Plastics and composite materials now make up 50 per cent of today’s cars by volume – but only 10 per cent by weight, resulting in improved mileage and lower emissions.

Global emissions from uneaten food represent over three billion tonnes annually. If food waste were a country, it would be the third-largest geographic source of GHGs on the planet. Advanced packaging reduces food waste and can cut emissions from food waste in half.

While these are just a few examples, research from the International Energy Agency shows that for every tonne of GHGs emitted as part of chemical manufacturing, more than three tonnes are avoided   during the product life cycle.

Canada is especially carbon-advantaged when it comes to chemicals production. We have access to abundant and low-cost natural gas; an electricity system that is very low-carbon intensive and trending towards zero carbon in the coming years; and access to low-carbon chemical feedstocks which give Canadian chemistry a carbon advantage over its competitors.

These advantages have allowed Canada’s chemistry sector to achieve a 67 per cent reduction in absolute GHG since 1992 (including 10 per cent since 2005) through investments in energy efficiency, fuel and raw materials substitution, carbon capture and process and product changes. Despite this progress, achieving Canada and the world’s climate objectives will be challenging. Nevertheless, it would be impossible without the innovation of the chemistry sector. For more, please see Chemistry: Essential to Canada’s Transition to a Low-Carbon Energy Future.

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