A Low-Carbon Chemical Industry Could Create 29 Million Jobs, Study Finds

The Grangemouth petrochemical plant in Scotland
The Grangemouth petrochemical plant run by Ineos, in Scotland, UK on Dec. 9, 2021. Jane Barlow / PA Images via Getty Images
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While the chemical industry provides society with useful materials, it is also a heavy contributor to plastic waste being released into the planet’s oceans, greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, biodiversity loss and divergence from natural biogeochemical cycles, a press release from The University of Tokyo’s Center for Global Commons (CGC) said.

According to a new report from CGC and system change company Systemiq, 29 million new jobs could be created by the chemical industry embracing technology that is low-carbon and more efficient, The Guardian reported.

Around four percent of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the global chemical industry, reported The University of Tokyo.

The Planet Positive Chemicals report from Systemiq emphasized that the chemical industry must switch to a low emissions model that is more circular and end its reliance on fossil fuels in order to become a beneficial force for the planet.

“We need realistic and immediate action from industry on the climate goals agreed at an international level. We want to see ambitious companies grabbing the opportunities represented by the global net zero transition,” said Chad Holliday, former CEO of DuPont and former chairman of Shell, The University of Tokyo reported.

The report set out a roadmap for the chemical industry to reach net zero carbon emissions and operate within planetary boundaries to help maintain the stability of Earth’s biophysical processes, the CGC press release said. It looked at the probable system-wide demand for chemicals in a world operating at net zero, as well as the chemical industry’s greenhouse gas emissions for the full range of activities it engages in to produce a product. It acknowledged the pervasiveness of chemical products, making the chemical industry’s job in providing support to other sectors to achieve net zero all the more essential.

The report warned that, if the chemical industry doesn’t act to change its destructive ways, it could lose its social license to operate — the continued acceptance of its standard way of doing business by the general public, its stakeholders and employees, reported The University of Tokyo.

“This [report] is the first time that we can show this industry that it’s really possible to change. The mindset of the industry has to change, to show there are enormous possibilities. The financial markets are also very keen to fund this transition,” said Paul Polman, former chief executive of Unilever and founder of Systemiq Capital, as The Guardian reported.

According to the report, the necessary investments to move the industry forward would equal about $100 billion per year by mid-century — relatively slight in comparison with the industry’s size. The investments would result in double the industry’s yearly profits, which currently equal about $4.7 trillion. About 11 million new chemicals manufacturing jobs would be created, as well as an additional 18 million jobs in associated industries.

The University of Tokyo said the chemical industry’s efforts to tackle the climate crisis are underdeveloped in comparison to other sectors.

The findings of the report recognize the necessity of revolutionary changes in the chemical industry, including increasing the production of certain chemicals like methanol for making fossil-fuel-free plastic and ammonia to be used as a green shipping fuel.

“The chemical industry underpins every modern economy, but it must change profoundly across its entire value chain to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement,” said Guido Schmidt-Traub, managing partner of Systemiq, as The University of Tokyo reported.

By 2050, as much as 705 million tons of carbon capture and storage capacity will be needed each year if the industry continues to use fossil fuels as raw materials, but, if fossil fuels are replaced, the chemicals industry would become the world’s biggest green hydrogen consumer, which would present economic opportunities for developing countries with ample renewable sources of green hydrogen that are low-cost.

By the early part of the 2040s, the chemical industry could achieve carbon negativity and could become a carbon sink by 2050 if it employs underground carbon storage and uses carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and biomass to produce plastic.

“To avoid the collapse of the complex and interdependent Earth systems on which humanity, including our economic prosperity depends, we need to transform our social and economic systems and our lifestyles. The chemical industry has an outsized role to play, with its products used across many sectors and ubiquitous in modern life,” said Naoko Ishii, executive vice president and director for CGC , as reported by The University of Tokyo. “The opportunity is clear: to bring the system back within the planetary boundaries, including net zero GHG and become a contributor to the Global Commons. We hope this report will open the debate about how the chemical industry can transform itself to grasp that opportunity.”

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