UK must steel itself for green transition

| 17th February 2021 |
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Common Wealth think tank argues steel contributes 15 percent of the UK’s greenhouse gases from industry and must be decarbonised.

Now is the time to deliver for steel workers and their communities with a Green New Deal.

The UK Government must speed up investment in “green” steel as part of the Covid-19 recovery and efforts to tackle climate change, a report has urged.

The report from think tank Common Wealth said that steel contributed 15 percent of the UK’s greenhouse gases from industry but was key to jobs, the economy and providing materials for low carbon technology such as wind farms.

There needs to be an ambitious, credible plan, starting with greater investment today, to secure a thriving, decarbonised steel sector, it urged.

Footprint

A failure to do so would lead to job losses, devastate communities that rely on steelworks, and undermine UK efforts to secure the green industries of the future, it said.

The report calls for the government to provide strategic support for the sector and stimulate demand for low carbon steel from the UK by accelerating investment in infrastructure projects that will help cut emissions to net zero.

It also called for the implementation of a green industrial strategy which develops areas such as hydrogen steelmaking, carbon capture and storage facilities and electric arc furnaces that will help the sector cut its emissions.

UK trade policy should also be developed to make sure carbon emissions are cut from domestic industry without offshoring jobs and production to places with a worse environmental footprint, the report said.

This could involve a carbon border adjustment system for steel goods which puts a fee on imported goods in relation to their carbon footprint.

Turbines

And it urged the government to put trade unions at the heart of developing the steel sector’s future to make the transition fair on workers and communities.

Responding to the report, shadow business secretary Ed Miliband said the government needed to step up and provide support for the sector, which had a proud history in the UK and was the backbone of good jobs in communities across the country.

“Whether we are building railways, schools or hospitals, a national infrastructure programme will require millions of tonnes of high-quality steel.

“Now is the time to deliver for steel workers and their communities with a Green New Deal to turbocharge our economic recovery and deliver a strong, future for our steel industry,” he said.

Miriam Cates, Conservative MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge, a steel manufacturing area, said: “We can’t produce the wind turbines, electric cars and railways that we need to deliver Net Zero without steel.

Comprehensive

“Imported steel comes with a high carbon price tag so we must prioritise helping our UK steel industry to scale up production of green steel, creating thousands of well-paid jobs and adding billions of pounds to our economy.”

Gareth Stace, director general of UK Steel, said: “The focus of businesses is to reduce our carbon footprint, and we need Government to step up and play a role, with us, in securing this transformation – it can support jobs in foreign steel industries or it can support jobs in ours.”

Roy Rickhuss, general secretary of the Community union, added: “Steelworkers must be at the centre of decision-making and a fair transition will require extensive investment that secures jobs.”

He urged the Prime Minister to use steel to demonstrate his commitment to British industry, the green revolution and industrial towns and communities.

A Business Department spokesperson said: “Whether for offshore wind farms or electric vehicles, the steel industry will play a role in providing the infrastructure we need for a green economic recovery.

“That is why we are taking comprehensive action to secure the sector’s future and protect jobs, supporting it to cut emissions and invest in low-carbon innovation with over £550 million in funding.”

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Emily Beament is the PA environment correspondent.

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