Steelmakers eye performance-based mill emissions, climate metrics standard

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Sources: Global Steel Climate Council; CP staff

Major concrete rebar and structural steel operators Commercial Metals Co., Nucor Corp. and Steel Dynamics Inc. lead North American members of a new international coalition chartered to support a standard that “accelerates the transition to low-emission steel and recognizes the potential of the recycled, circular steel model to reduce carbon emissions.” The Global Steel Climate Council (GSCC) urges United States and European Union representatives negotiating a new steel production emissions standard to adopt a solution incentivizing mills to use the cleanest process available.

“Steel is essential for our economies, including the world’s essential infrastructure. This new standard will accelerate the actual reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and provide key decisionmakers with accurate data to make informed decisions,” says Steel Dynamics CEO Mark Millett, who chairs another GSCC founding member, the Steel Manufacturers Association (SMA), Washington, D.C.

Any U.S. and EU agreement on a steel standard should focus on the amount of emissions generated from raw material to end user delivery, GSCC contends, not on how the product is made. Council members note a) The majority of the world’s steel production is extremely carbon intensive because it primarily relies on mined and processed coal, iron ore and limestone; and, b) Other steelmakers, including those behind more than 70 percent of U.S. and 40 percent of European output, use electric arc furnaces (EAFs) that generate significantly lower carbon emissions than traditional blast furnaces.

“We have the technology to reduce carbon emissions in steel production by 70 percent today,” affirms Nucor CEO Leon Topalian. “The global industry needs to build on the innovation that has already led to cleaner steel production in the United States. The green and digital economies around the world are going to be built with steel, and the steel they are built with matters.”

High-emission steelmakers support a “sliding scale” U.S. and European Union standard. It would set a greenhouse gas emission ceiling up to nine times higher for extractive (blast furnace method) versus recycled products (EAF), penalizing EAF producers and permitting higher-emission steel to be erroneously labeled as “green.” Under a sliding scale, GSCC argues, two steel products could be classified as equally “green,” even though one was produced by creating multiple times more carbon emissions than the other.

“We must prevent steel producers from classifying their products as green when the same products are available on the market with significantly lower carbon emissions,” observes Francisco Cardona, head of Public Affairs at founding Council member Celsa Group, a leading European producer of low-emission circular steel.

“The GSCC single standard will encourage all producers to reduce their carbon emissions and create a level playing field,” adds SMA President Philip Bell. “U.S.-EU negotiations should not create a double standard and a slippery slope toward a dirtier environment. We can do better.”