New industry watchdog challenges the global steel industry in New York

· New York

New York, Monday, June 26 2023: Climate activists and experts gathered to launch a new global watchdog organisation, SteelWatch, and sent a unified message to the steel industry during one of its major industry events: its time to sunset the use of coal in steelmaking and for the industry to clean up its act fast. 

SteelWatch is here to bring climate urgency to the steel industry, which is totally off-track for a livable planet.  The watchdog’s Director, Caroline Ashley, remarked further, ‘The problem is coal: coal-based production of steel drives emissions and pollution. Steel will be an essential part of a thriving zero emissions economy, but ambition and action are needed now, not in 2049.

The watchdog’s first report Sunsetting Coal in Steel calls out steel as the sector with fastest growing emissions and a risk for planetary stability.  The steel sector’s contribution – at least 7 percent of global emissions – is equivalent to the annual emissions of India.   Ninety percent of this comes from coal-based production of steel.  A business-as-usual approach to continued coal-based production of steel will gobble up almost one quarter of the world’s total carbon budget by 2050

Decision makers need to take rapid action to decarbonise. In order to change course, SteelWatch calls for a firm red line on coal:

  • No investment in any new or relined coal-based blast furnace facilities in OECD countries or by OECD based companies , from today.
  • No investment in relining existing or building new coal-based blast furnace facilities that go on-line from January 2028, in emerging economies.

“We can do better than coal-based steel for the sake of workers, front line communities, and the climate,” says Hilary Lewis, Industrious Labs’ Steel Director. “Modernising steel into a fossil-free industry can grow jobs and reduce both health and climate-harming pollution. With significant federal funding available from the Inflation Reduction Act, the US is well positioned to lead the transformation.”

The report points out that in order for the industry to align with a 1.5C pathway, a reduction of approximately 1.8 gigatons of CO2 emissions.

SteelWatch explains that roughly 400 steel facilities that rely primarily on coal-based blast furnaces globally, 71 percent of them  will have at least one or more furnaces due for refurbishment or ‘relining’ (an investment that extends the production life 15-20 years) in the next seven years, which presents the only opportunity to reshape the steel industry without coal and transition toward a modern emissions free future.

“Now that SteelWatch has joined the climate fight, the steel industry finally has a formidable watchdog. This debut report is the first to call for a phase out of coal use in steel production, a bold but necessary step.Right now, steel companies are trying to define what ‘green steel’ should be independently of what communities and the planet need, ” commented Leanne Govindsamy of the Center for Environmental Rights (CER) in South Africa. “Here in South Africa we have been calling out ArcelorMittal’s harmful impacts locally and the slower pace of decarbonisation plans for its facilities in the global South.  It’s past time for ArcelorMittal and other steel companies to step up and act locally and globally.” CER is one of many global NGOs SteelWatch works with.

“SteelWatch has arrived just in time to ensure the next few years of steel industry investments are not locking in climate emissions but instead setting a path toward alignment with a 1.5C pathway for the sector by 2030,” said Johanna Lehne of E3G.

This report builds upon a clear consensus from institutions like the IEA, think tanks like IDDRI, and NGOs like E3G which have made clear through different analysis that for steel to get on track for a 1.5C climate aligned pathway, immediate action and a rapid shift away from coal is necessary. Earlier this month, Agora Industry, a major think tank in Europe released a report calling for an 32% reduction in net steel emissions by 2030 (based on 2019 baseline) and forecasting that total end to coal in steelmaking could be possible between 2043-2045 if solutions like gigawatts worth of renewable electricity powering green hydrogen infrastructure can move fast enough.  


Media Contact: Margaret Hansbrough of SteelWatch ([email protected])  and Molly Dorozenski ([email protected]) of Industrious Labs

About SteelWatch: SteelWatch is an emerging campaign organisation. Our vision is a steel industry that underpins a thriving zero-emissions economy. Our mission is to turbo-charge the transformation to a decarbonised steel sector that enables the environment, communities and workers to thrive. Our initial priority is for the steel sector to get on-track with a 1.5 degree warming trajectory by 2030 by pivoting from coal-based steel production to clean alternatives.  We contribute to change by exposing inaction, strengthening civil society voice, and challenging corporates to step up to a faster deeper transition.

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