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Steel industry, unions, and cross-party MPs call for ambitious green plan for sector to support levelling up and deliver a net zero future

Community
Community
16th February 2021

New report, welcomed by Ed Miliband and Miriam Cates, argues bold action is needed in the year of COP26 to make the UK a world-leading clean steel producer


Community is today supporting the think tank Common Wealth‘s new report, published with today cross-party backing. The report urges the Government to speed up investment in low-carbon steel transition matched to a green industrial strategy to help deliver on three of its key aims: securing a strong recovery from Covid-19, delivering on levelling up, and putting the UK on a world-leading path to net-zero.

“This report makes a compelling case for the UK to put Steel at the heart of both our economic and environmental ambitions. We can’t produce the wind turbines, electric cars and railways that we need to deliver Net Zero without steel,” said Miriam Cates, Conservative MP for Penistone & Stocksbridge, elected in 2019.

“The UK has a proud history of steel manufacturing and the industry is the backbone of good jobs in communities across the country. It is vital we safeguard the industry by supporting it to decarbonise and be part of our transition to a greener future.” said Ed Miliband, Labour Shadow Business Secretary and MP for Doncaster North.

Failure to act would lead to job losses, devastate local economies, damage industrial capacity and supply chains, and undermine the UK’s efforts to secure the green industries of the future, warns the report. The report further demonstrates that steel is vital to delivering a clean, green future, from wind turbines to green infrastructure to electric vehicles.

The report also argues inaction or inadequate support for the sector is not a green jobs plan. A lack of ambition on steel would lead to a loss of jobs but the UK would still need to import primary steel, often sourced from producers with lower environmental standards, offshoring jobs but not reducing emissions.

The report argues that in the year of COP26, the government and employers must do more to show world-leading ambition. With the world steel sector producing 9% of global emissions and domestically 15% of the UK’s industrial emissions, the report urges the UK government to commit to an industrially viable, world-leading pathway for decarbonising British steel to help the sector secure a growing share of the global market for low-carbon steel. The global steel market is currently worth an estimated $2.5 trillion dollars.

An ambitious plan would make UK steel a world-leader, and secure clean jobs and industry for decades to come, the report argues. This will require an ambitious, credible plan – beginning with greater investment today as part of any Covid recovery plan, with trade unions at the heart of a fair transition.

The report comes amid the ‘Britain, we need our steel’ campaign, which has stressed the importance of steel to strong local economies and the UK’s strategic independence. In recent years the steel sector has suffered major job losses and bankruptcies as the sector struggles with high energy costs and a volatile international market. The report shows that wages in the sector are 28% higher than the UK average and 46% higher than Wales and Yorkshire & the Humber.

With the UK’s two blast-furnace based producers coming to a key point in their long investment cycle, the report argues now is the time for a transformative surge in investment to secure the sector’s future as a world-leader in green streel, based on an ambitious, credible industrial pathway toward decarbonisation. This can be done through hydrogen steelmaking, carbon capture and storage (CSS), and Electric Arc Furnaces, to support both primary and secondary (scrap iron) steel production.  The HYBRIT plant in Sweden, based on investment by the Swedish government and a Finnish publicly-owned steelmaker, is on the path to becoming one of the first net-zero steel producers globally.

The report argues that investment in technologies such as hydrogen matched to an ambitious green industrial strategy to stimulate demand for low-carbon steel can ensure steel acts as a foundation of a post-pandemic green recovery.

Ed Miliband, Labour Shadow Business Secretary and MP for Doncaster North said:

“This report is a timely reminder that a strong steel industry must be at the heart of UK’s economic recovery. Whether we are building railways, schools or hospitals, a national infrastructure programme will require millions of tonnes of high-quality steel.

“The UK has a proud history of steel manufacturing and the industry is the backbone of good jobs in communities across the country. It is vital we safeguard the industry by supporting it to decarbonise and be part of our transition to a greener future.

“The Government needs to step up and provide the support that is essential. 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.”

Miriam Cates, Vice-Chair of the Steel and Related Metals APPG and Conservative MP for Penistone & Stocksbridge said:

This report makes a compelling case for the UK to put Steel at the heart of both our economic and environmental ambitions. We can’t produce the wind turbines, electric cars and railways that we need to deliver Net Zero without steel. 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.”

Fatima Ibrahim, co-executive of Green New Deal UK said:

Green steel is essential for driving a transition away from fossil fuels. A strategic plan for the sector is essential to grow green jobs and build infrastructure for renewable energy and public transit, as well as carbon-neutral housing stock. If the government is serious about tackling the climate crisis, it needs to make real investment in the greening of heavy industry. Green steel can be the future for a UK net-zero economy, and it’s essential that the climate movement supports steelworkers as they lead the charge in their sector.”

Roy Rickhuss CBE, General Secretary of Community and Chair of the National Trade Union Steel Coordinating Committee, said:

“There’s no doubt a strong and sustainable British steel industry is vital for delivering our climate objectives. Building back better and greener is going to require millions of tonnes of steel, and government must back us to seize this one-off opportunity. The choice is clear because either we make the steels here, supporting tens of thousands of good jobs, or we can offshore those jobs and rely on high-carbon imports from countries playing by different rules.

“Safeguarding the long-term future of our strategic industry means we have to decarbonise steelmaking, which can only be achieved through government leadership and the full engagement of all stakeholders. Steelworkers must be at the centre of decision-making and a fair transition will require extensive investment that secures jobs. Through this crucial project from Common Wealth we challenge the Prime Minister to use steel to decisively demonstrate his commitment to British industry, to the green revolution, and to industrial towns and communities.”

Gareth Stace, Director General, UK Steel, said: 

“This is an impressive project and a report that should be of interest to anyone that cares about the future of manufacturing in the UK and future generations to come. As we look forward to COP26 and beyond to the Green Industrial Revolution, we need to ensure that we have a steel sector in Britain to produce the sustainable steel that will be used to build this economy. 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.”


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