Industry was responsible for 24% of the world’s CO2 emissions in 2018, with roughly 8.5 Gt of CO2 being released into the atmosphere [85 billion pandas]. As a whole, industry is responsible for 19% of global freshwater withdrawals, while industrial waste generation is over 17 times higher than municipal solid waste [with high-income countries generating the most industrial waste].

It’s difficult to evaluate all industries at once, since they all have different energy intensities and pollution levels. It’s also hard to evaluate all of them separately, because many industries aren’t well monitored – so estimating emissions and energy consumption is tricky. For those reasons, we’ll just go over a few of the most important industries that we haven’t seen already.

The iron & steel, cement, chemicals & petrochemicals, pulp & paper, and aluminum industries emit the most CO2. The first 3 alone are responsible for over 65% of industrial CO2 emissions.

That dotted blue line isn’t a projection, it’s what needs to happen to align with the 2030 SDS [Sustainable Development Scenario]. That’ll be a difficult task considering industrial production is expected to grow during that time. To reduce yearly CO2 emissions from 8.5 to 7.4 Gt to align with the SDS, industry needs to reduce emissions on average by 1.2% per year until 2030.

Again, a tough challenge considering industrial energy consumption has increased on average by 0.9% annually from 2010-2018. Efficiency alone won’t help us get to the SDS goal – we’re going to need to slow down our energy demand.

It’s not very surprising that energy consumption keeps on increasing, since material demand has been consistently increasing as well. The respective demands for aluminum, plastics, and cement have all increased by at least 250% between 1990-2018. That’s 3.5 times the 1990 demand for those materials – less than 30 years later. Demand for steel isn’t too far behind, with a 2018 demand 136% higher than in 1990.

Industry accounted for 37% of the world’s final energy consumption, with roughly 2/3 of industrial energy demand being used for heat. In 2019, industry’s energy mix was dominated by fossil fuels at around 69%, followed by electricity at 21%. It’s worth mentioning that much of this electricity was generated from burning fossil fuels as well, so fossil fuels actually account for more than 69% of the industrial energy mix.

Solar thermal and geothermal, the technologies set to “revolutionize the industry sector” still account for less than 0.05% of the industrial energy mix. Not too surprising considering that the renewable share of heat demand is only required to increase from 9.5% to 13.2% from 2018-2030 to align with the SDS.

To recap, industry is extremely energy intensive and relies heavily on fossil fuels. Not a great combo.

While we reduce our consumption at all scales, it’ll be essential for energy-intensive industries to make use of the best available technologies to maximize efficiency. At such an enormous scale, the slightest improvements can help reduce CO2 emissions considerably. Remember that industries are nowhere near our individual scale, where our quest for more efficient products can easily end up polluting more.

Better policies will be crucial to ensure that industries reduce their impacts swiftly.