Blog: COP25 - cop out?

Andrew Purvis
Director, Safety, Health and Environment, worldsteel

17 December 2019

COP25, the longest ever United Nations Climate Change Conference, finally spluttered to a halt in Madrid on Sunday 15th December, having been scheduled to wrap up on Friday.

COP25 wrap up

The sun finally sets on COP25, two days late

Article 6 and the Paris Rulebook

Expectations leading up to the COP were that the final elements of what has become known as the “Paris Rulebook” operationalising the landmark 2015 Paris agreement would be agreed. The problematic section relates to linking international carbon markets, which could significantly reduce the cost of reducing emissions. Sign off of this section was pushed to the Madrid conference following the failure of countries to agree in Katowice in 2018.   

Unfortunately, seeming intractable differences between countries led to Article 6 remaining unresolved, and discussions will continue with the hope that final agreement will be reached at the next conference in Glasgow in November 2020.

Despite disappointment that the rule book has not been signed off, countries do still have the ability to negotiate bilateral exchanges under their own schemes, but without agreement on Article 6 it will be harder for these exchanges to count toward individual country efforts.

Photo credit: International Chamber of Commerce (https://iccwbo.org)

A question of ambition?

Many commentators also remarked on a ‘lack of ambition’ demonstrated by countries at the COP. They often cite the ‘Greta effect’, the forceful youth activism that has contributed to many jurisdictions, including the European Parliament and Canada, declaring a ‘climate emergency’. However, ambition itself will not solve the problem; what matters is what is actually done to curb emissions, not what is aspired to.

It is clear that current country commitments are not enough, and according to the International Energy Agency would see global warming rise to 3 degrees above pre-industrial levels, compared to the ‘below 2 degrees’ ambition of the Paris Agreement itself.    

Looking forward to COP26

Countries clearly have a lot to do in the next 12 months if the UN process is to be brought back on track. COP26 will be held five years after the landmark Paris Agreement was reached and represents the first opportunity for countries to upgrade their emissions reduction targets. The United Kingdom, the host of the event, aspires to zero net carbon emissions by 2050, and is therefore in a position to take a credible leadership position to call for increased action from others.

Reflections on COP25

Emissions intensive industry was discussed at many events, and it appears to be well understood that steel has a vital role to play in enabling broad societal decarbonisation. The transformation of ‘hard to abate sectors’ like steel to a zero net carbon footprint forms a critical element of the Paris journey.

In addition to discussion of decarbonisation technologies, the interaction between greenhouse gas regulation and trade featured prominently. The recent announcement from the new EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen that the block’s new ‘Green Deal’ will include a carbon border adjustment mechanism focussed attention on the nexus between trade and environmental policy.

As my previous blog detailed, it was refreshing and encouraging to see so many steelmakers present and engaged. Indeed, an increasing number of worldsteel members are setting themselves ambitious CO2 reduction targets and investing in transformational projects, for example:

  • ArcelorMittal Europe has set a target to cut carbon emissions by 30% by 2030, in line with an ambition announced in May this year to be carbon-neutral in Europe by 2050.
  • Evraz plan to build a 240-MW project at their Pueblo plant, making it the United States’ first solar-powered steel mill.
  • Liberty Steel has set a goal to become a carbon-neutral steelmaker by 2030.
  • Hyundai Steel is targeting an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050.
  • Nucor’s $250 million micromill in Sedalia, Missouri, is set to be the first steel plant in the United States to run on wind energy.
  • SSAB plans to be the first company in the world to get fossil-free steel onto the market in 2026 through its revolutionary HYBRIT project, and plans to be entirely fossil-free by 2045.
  • Tata Steel Europe have set a goal to become a carbon-neutral steelmaker by 2050.
  • Steelmaking at thyssenkrupp is to be climate-neutral by 2050
  • United States Steel aims to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions intensity by 20% by the year 2030.
  • voestalpine is working to gradually decarbonise steel production by moving away from coal via bridging technologies over the long term, primarily those based on natural gas. It is also working towards the potential use of CO2-neutral hydrogen.

Our members' ability to deliver on the commitments they have made will very much depend on governments developing and implementing innovative and supportive policy frameworks to encourage and facilitate the new industrial revolution that will be required. 

 

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