UK falling behind in European race to green steel industry, research finds

Elliot Chappell

The UK government is failing to keep up with its European counterparts in efforts to decarbonise the steel industry, research published today by trade union Community and think tank Common Wealth has found.

In the joint paper Steel the Deal: The Race to the Top for European Green Steel, the organisations warned that “the clock is ticking, both with regards to addressing climate breakdown and the need to safeguard a long term future for UK steel”.

Comparing the domestic steel industry to initiatives in neighbouring European countries, Community and Common Wealth found that green steel projects in France, Germany and Sweden are “substantially ahead” of efforts in the UK.

The UK government pledged £250m as part of the ‘Clean Steel Fund’ ahead of the 2019 general election, yet funding has yet to be distributed despite repeated calls on the government to act.

“Despite the UK standing to gain millions from the repatriation of their share of EU research funds related to steel, at a time when support for green steel innovation, research and development is urgently needed, it remains unclear how these will be allocated,” the trade union and think tank wrote.

“The need for immediate action is heightened by sky-rocketing electricity costs faced by the industry, which are currently hampering the competitive edge of UK steel, and the sector’s capacity to decarbonise. Billions in investment is required to transform the UK steel sector and unlock the economic, social and climate benefits.”

Ed Miliband warned last October that it will cost £6bn for the steel industry to achieve net zero over the next 15 years as he argued that “there is nothing like the commitment we believe is required” in the government’s net-zero strategy.

“The failure to invest does not just affect whether this transition is fair for consumers but also workers in existing industries… There is nothing for steel in this document and a £250m clean steel fund some way down the road will not cut it,” the Shadow Climate Change and Net Zero Secretary said.

Community said earlier this year that a new coal mine planned for West Cumbria is “not a game-changer for the steel industry” in response to claims that the installation could help supply British-made steel and replace Russian imports.

Community’s Alasdair McDiarmid told LabourList at the time that the mine, which the government is due to either approve or reject plans for in November, “must not distract from the imperative to invest in low-carbon steelmaking”.

The UK government, along with others around the world, has committed to reducing carbon emissions. Its advisory climate change committee has said that for the country to meet its carbon-cutting timetable, steel firms must stop burning coal by 2035 and highlighted that 85% of the coal from the new mine would be exported.

As revealed by LabourList, Labour joined forces with steel unions last year for plans to buy, make, sell more in Britain in a bid to boost the steel sector in Britain that has been “so sorely left behind” by the current Conservative government.

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