Blog: COP 23 to 24, next stop Katowice

COP 23 to 24, next stop Katowice

COP 23 to 24, next stop Katowice

Andrew Purvis
Director, Safety, Health and Environment, worldsteel
21 November 2017

COP 23 is over, delegates from 197 countries have returned to their national capitals to digest the results, consult their governments and plan for their next intersessional meeting planned in Bonn in April 2018.  The legion of activists and advocates have also left town having hurriedly booked rooms for COP24, to be held in Katowice in December of 2018.

This COP was never going to end in celebrations and fireworks, and the last two weeks have demonstrated the complexity involved in reaching an agreed position on the many elements of the negotiations. It can be difficult for Parties to come to a compromise, but this must happen soon if the global climate action agenda is to continue to advance. Parties made some promising strides forward, and while it does feel like the rulebook for the Paris agreement is starting to come together there is still much to do. COP may feel a little like a circus at times, but it is clear that an inclusive and transparent process with all stakeholders and potential solution providers present and engaged represents the best way forward.


Photo taken on 9 November 2017; Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth

Having spent a week or so in Bonn, immersed in protests, exhibits and side events, one thing that became very clear to me is that steel will play a vital role in enabling the goals of the Paris agreement to be met. 

Let me explain, while all of the advocates and parties at COP agree on the need for action to limit warming to 2 degrees (or lower) above pre-industrial levels, they often disagree, sometimes strongly, on how this might be achieved. Some argue for 100% renewable energy, others for an increased role for nuclear, carbon capture and storage (CCS), an increased role for high efficiency fossil, biomass, more efficient and smarter buildings, e-mobility, or the importance of providing clean energy to developing communities to address basic health and sanitation needs and address gender inequalities. An often-unspoken truth is that all of these solutions to mitigate the impacts of climate change rely on steel, a material that is so ubiquitous and useful that it is easily taken for granted, but without it none of these solutions would be possible. 

For example:

  • Steel provides a foundation for renewable energy – wind turbines are made of steel, solar farms are constructed from and given strength by steel, hydroelectric and tidal generation are a result of water turning steel turbines, releasing forces that only steel can resist and transform. Geothermal power will require steel and stainless steel infrastructure.
  • Nuclear power stations are only possible because of advanced high-strength engineering steels, as are thermal power plants whether they burn gas, coal, or biomass. 
  • CCS will rely on networks of steel pipelines to safely transport CO2 to storage locations deep underground, though wells lined with steel and bored with steel drilling rigs.
  • Electrification of transport will require electrical steels in unprecedented volumes, the same steels are essential to enable electricity to be generated and used.

Some of the most innovative solutions exhibited at COP were made possible by steel, though this wasn’t always recognised by their advocates – from technology companies showcasing hydrogen powered trains and low carbon marine transport to environmental NGOs who had developed simple, high efficiency steel cooking stoves for use in developing countries. Often the question ‘what is it made from’ was answered with a shrug.

The production of iron and steel does lead to the emission of greenhouse gas emissions, and our industry is absolutely committed to do everything we can to reduce our own impact on the environment. My previous blog from COP gave some examples of the work being done by just some of worldsteel’s member companies to address our own emissions, and it is clear that in the context of the Paris Agreement this is an area we will need to devote more of our attention to.

So, while we cannot be complacent, I walked around COP with my head held high, confident that everyone present would, if they thought about it, recognise the value of our extraordinary material in making the goals of the Paris agreement possible.

Our challenge is to communicate this, by doing so successfully we can and must transform critics of our industry and its impact into supporters of our both our incredible product and of our decarbonisation efforts.

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