Blog: COP26 – the last best chance?

Andrew Purvis

Director, Safety, Environment and Technology, worldsteel

4 November 2021

Andrew Purvis at UNFCC session: Targeting net-zero: Leveraging a just transformation of the global steel sector, 3 November 2021

After 12 months of pandemic delay, COP 26 is finally happening. Government negotiators, with the traditional accompanying cavalcade of non-state actors, have descended on Glasgow for a UN Climate Change conference described by US climate envoy John Kerry as "the last best chance" to avert the worst environmental consequences for the world.

The last few days have seen world leaders gather for the high-level sessions and speeches, and several announcements and commitments have already been made. For example, a coalition of 100 countries have vowed to end and reverse deforestation by 2030; India has set a net-zero target for 2070, and announced that 50% of energy will be derived from renewable sources by 2030. The real work though will start once the presidents and other leaders have left and delegates commence negotiations in earnest.  

While this hasn’t been built up as a landmark COP like (successful) Paris or (failed) Copenhagen, there is important work to do here. Negotiators have a few issues on their collective ‘To Do’ lists. 

The first issue is to tidy up some loose ends, in particular, the “Paris Rule book” and the rules associated with “Article 6” (governing the transfer of emissions reductions between countries), left unresolved at the end of COP 25.     

Climate Finance will also be under discussion - it's generally agreed that an existing target to provide $100bn of climate finance a year by 2020 has been missed, and the COP presidency has identified this topic as a key outcome of the COP. 

Finally, the COP presidency is looking to accelerate ambition. Countries are being asked to come forward with 2030 emissions reductions targets that align with reaching net zero by the middle of the century. 

A recent IPCC report found temperatures have already risen by 1.1°C, and that global warming is expected to reach 1.5°C in the next 20 years and could climb higher still if substantive emissions reductions are not delivered. The COP presidency is therefore aiming to secure global net-zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach. 

In 2020, 1,860 million tonnes (Mt) of steel were produced, and total direct emissions from our sector were of the order of 2.6 billion tonnes, representing between 7% and 9% of global anthropogenic CO2 emissions. 

To transition an industry of this scale to net-zero by 2050, or 2070 (aligned with the original Paris agreement) will entirely transform our industry.   

Those of us who make our living around steel instantly know a steel plant when we see one. Steel plants have had the same basic structure for 50 years – coke ovens, agglomeration plant, blast furnace, BOF, or possibly an EAF followed by casting and finishing. The future steel plant will look entirely different and will deploy an entirely different set of technologies and skills.

It is a confronting and exciting time to be part of the steel industry and the eyes of the world are on us, as well as on the negotiations in Glasgow. 

The good news is that many initiatives are being planned and launched to support the steel industry’s transition. I look forward to sharing news of these over the next couple of weeks here in Scotland.

In the meantime, I invite you to have a look at the recording of a steel-focused UNFCCC meeting in which I participated on 3 November: Targeting net-zero: Leveraging a just transformation of the global steel sector, which provides a good insight into the topics of interest to the steel industry which are being discussed.

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