5.      Chemicals and petrochemicals

The chemicals and petrochemicals sector produces plastics, fertilizers, and other chemicals. GHG emissions in the sector come mainly from two sources: the combustion of fossil fuels for heat demand, and emissions from chemical processes.

5.1.  Activity level

Because this sector produces a wide range of different intermediate and end products, a monetary rather than a physical indicator is used to model activity. However, the predicted activity, in contribution to GDP, is not given for this sector. Instead, the predicted global economic growth rate of the IEA ETP 2014 2DS pathway—roughly 3.3 percent per year—is used because chemicals and petrochemicals permeate all levels of industry.

5.2.  Emission reduction potential

In 2010, global CO2 emissions from the chemical and petrochemical sector were 1.2 Gt. Global CO2 emissions would be expected to increase to 2 Gt by 2050, an increase of almost 68 percent. China, Africa, and the Middle East account for more than half the emission reduction potential (IEA 2012a).


More efficient or less emission-intensive alternatives are available for many processes required to make products in the chemical and petrochemical sector (IPCC 2014a). Improvements in efficiency can be achieved by increased process integration, waste heat recovery and utilization, the use of efficient electrical equipment, and the implementation of captive cogeneration units. Also, substantial opportunities exist (up to 50 percent emissions reduction) in using less material (IPCC 2014a). Low-carbon technologies—including the deployment of bio-based chemical facilities and improved performance of catalysts and related process technologies—can also reduce emissions. In addition, CCS can be used to meet the sector’s targets. IEA estimates that CCS could be responsible for 551 Mt of CO2 captured in 2050 in the sector.

5.3.  Carbon intensity pathway

The required emissions pathway for the chemical and petrochemical industry is given in the 2DS scenario, and the relative growth in the emissions scenario is divided by the economic growth over the same period. The final carbon intensity pathway shows a small increase in carbon intensity because of the higher uptake of carbon-intensive special chemicals until 2020, and then a decline in carbon intensity by 52 percent in 2050 (Figure I.5). 



Figure I.5. Although activity will grow in the chemical and petrochemical sector, carbon intensity would peak in 2020, then decline by 52 percent by 2050

Source: based on IEA (2014).