New steel industry watchdog calls for the end of coal in steelmaking
The steel industry, which is responsible for 7-9% of global CO2 emissions, is facing increasing pressure to clean up its act and ditch its reliance on coal following the launch on Monday of SteelWatch, a new climate-focused watchdog.
The organisation plans to bring “climate urgency” to the sector through the publication of data, scrutiny of corporate performance, and direct challenge to steel companies to shift investments faster. SteelWatch is announcing its launch and sharing its call to action in Times Square where industry leaders are meeting at the global Steel Dynamics Forum.
“The steel industry is totally off-track for a livable planet,” said SteelWatch’s director, Caroline Ashley.
‘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,” she added.
SteelWatch has released an inaugural report, Sunsetting Coal in Steel, which shows a business-as-usual approach to continued coal-based steel production will gobble up almost one quarter of the world’s total remaining carbon budget by 2050.
Ninety percent of carbon emissions from steelmaking comes from coal-based production.
The report points out that in order for the industry to align with a 1.5C pathway by 2030, a reduction of approximately 1.8 gigatons of annual CO2 emissions is needed.
It also shows that of about 400 steel facilities that rely primarily on coal-based blast furnaces globally, 71% of them have at least one furnace 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.
Industry decision makers need to take rapid action to decarbonise. In order to change course, SteelWatch calls for a firm redline on coal-based steelmaking:
- 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.
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.
“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, a programme manager at E3G who leads the organisation’s work on industrial decarbonisation and trade policy.
“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,” said 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.
About SteelWatch: SteelWatch is a new 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. For more information visit www.steelwatch.org
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