The world faces a constant and growing challenge. How does it meet the demands of a rapidly rising population – last count seven billion – with finite resources, in a way that does not threaten the planet? One sector that has an answer and is doing more than the public realises to meet that challenge is the global chemical industry.
Around the world, the chemical industry is working hard to find solutions to many of the issues that a rising population presents society.
That work – since the first historic Earth Summit in Rio de Janiero in 1992 – has helped to ensure that farmers adopt sustainable agricultural methods and that more and more people can access cleaner, safer drinking water. It has further led to medical breakthroughs, transformed the way energy is used and is helping to reduce greenhouse gases.
And the work goes on.
Last year, the chemical industry, which directly employs more than seven million people worldwide, took stock of what it had achieved over the past 20 years since that first United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, and looked forward at how it could collectively begin to address the challenges that have emerged since.
During the Rio + 20 conference, which was attended by representatives from 196 nations, Steve Elliott, chief executive of the UK’s Chemical Industries Association, said that the chemical industry had been at the forefront of the emerging green economy.
“Without chemical businesses, green technology and the green economy simply cannot happen,” he said.
Mr Elliott said he hoped Rio +20 would show the world how the industry and its stakeholders had worked together to enable people, the planet and companies to thrive.
Some of that progress has been highlighted in a report published by the International Council of Chemical Associations, the worldwide voice of the chemical industry.
ICCA president Andrew Liveris said during a panel discussion that progress had been the result of innovative ideas, technologies and processes, all made possible only through chemistry.
“Around the world, the chemical industry is enabling the very solutions we need to meet the global challenges,” he said.
In its report, the ICCA said building a green economy would depend on innovative solutions from all sectors – a view shared by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
“In these times of austerity and economic uncertainty, public sector efforts alone will not be sufficient,” he said.
“We need everyone at the table – investors, CEOs, governments, civil society groups, technical experts and practitioners – working in a common cause.”
Carlos Fadigas, chief executive of Brazilian chemical company Braskem, also took part in the ICCA panel discussion at the summit.
He said that the efficient use of resources was crucial.
“We must focus on sustainable consumption as well as sustainable production, with a commitment to producing goods and services efficiently and consuming them differently,” he said.
“To achieve that, it is crucial that each company puts sustainability as a core driver of its business strategy. More and more chemical companies are doing that.”
The ICCA said it hoped Rio +20 would spur governments into creating the right environment that would allow chemical companies to act swiftly to find even more innovative solutions to the world’s changing needs.
“Innovative, efficient solutions are required to achieve sustainable development,” it said.
“And contributions of the global chemical industry will play an essential role in the transition to a green economy envisioned by Rio +20.”
The ICCA also continues to encourage developing economies to responsibly use and handle 2,000 plus chemicals currently on the market, through its training workshops, which have so far been conducted – in such places as the Middle East, Africa and Asia – by leading chemical companies that are keen to share best practices.
“Promoting safe management and use of essential products of chemistry is a shared responsibility of manufacturers, government and all those who sell or use chemical products,” it said.
Rio+20 followed the publication of The European Chemical Industry Council’s first-ever sustainability report designed to raise public awareness of the benefits that the industry brings to society.
Cefic is the European Chemical Industry Council. This Brussels-based organisation said its own surveys and external research had shown that public opinion of the chemical industry differed from one country to the next.
The report, which highlighted examples of innovative products and initiatives, and groundbreaking advances, aimed to improve the public’s generally negative perception of the chemical industry.
“The chemical industry is, perhaps, better placed than any other sector to tackle the challenges of sustainability,” he said.
“After all there’s virtually no product, no service or human activity that does not in some way rely on the contribution of chemistry.”
In its report, Cefic stressed the importance of open communication.
“Partnerships and collaboration within industry are essential,” said Mr Giorgoi Squinzi President of Cefic. “But so too are partnerships with authorities, those in the supply chain, and academic and research institutions.”