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Why do green jobs plans need a different politics and economics? (Part 1)

By Jonathan Essex - Greener Jobs Alliance, March 19, 2024

The Greener Jobs Alliance was very pleased to invite Jonathan Essex to speak at our AGM on 13 February. Here Jonathan expands on the ideas in that presentation in a two-part blog posting, focusing, in this first part, on the urgent need for a different approach to transition in several specific sectors.

Green jobs plans are an important part of the transition to a zero-carbon economy. But they need wider political commitments to make this happen. This piece explores the need for a stronger position by the UK government on phasing out fossil fuels, for a transition for heavy industry such as steel, for reducing overall demand for energy and materials, and for this to be set within an economics of redistribution. 

No more oil, coal and gas

First, we need to stop extracting ever more coal, oil and gas. We can’t afford to extract and burn current reserves, let alone new reserves. That Rosebank, the large new oilfield in the North Sea, should not be exploited, is a litmus test of political commitment to sufficient climate action. It has long been known that we must leave at least 80% of coal, oil and gas as unburnable to stay within 2°C of global warming. In 2021, the International Energy Agency said that no more oil, gas or coal reserves should be developed to stay within the limit of 1.5°C. In 2023 researchers have estimated that 60% of existing oil, gas and coal fields and mines already open or under construction need to be shut down. 

The implication for the UK is clear. No more offshore or onshore fossil fuel extraction should start, and existing North Sea oil and gas fields should be phased out. 

But to constrain fossil fuel burning within global limits we need more global restraint of supply and demand than has been envisaged, let alone agreed, at global climate conferences.

Firstly, a non-fossil fuel proliferation treaty is needed to keep large amounts of existing reserves, including that already being exploited, in the ground in a fair manner. This needs a global transition fund and clear agreed plans for its implementation. 

The UK and other historic emitters should lead by example. For the UK this means not just no to Rosebank but no new coal mine in Cumbria, no fracking or other onshore extraction. 

But that is only half of the story. Research by Fergus Green on climate policy highlights that to be effective, policies to limit fossil fuel extraction and constrain demand for oil, coal and gas need to work together. They use the analogy of a pair of scissors. Unless pressure is put on both sides, to reduce supply and demand together, then policies to cut carbon will not work. 

So, alongside limiting extraction, real efforts to curtail demand are needed. Such demand reduction must start with key sectors of the economy that have to date largely defied efforts to decarbonise. Three are explored here: transport (particularly aviation, shipping and road freight), heavy industry and the overall demand for high carbon ways of living. To explore this the fastest growing form of transport emissions – aviation – and perhaps the cornerstone of heavy industry – the steel industry – are considered, before exploring how society as a whole might make sufficient changes.

The Fight for Steel: A Workers’ Plan for Port Talbot

By staff - UNITE, November 2023

For further background, visit this site.

We are at the crossroads. There are two paths on offer, and it’s time to choose. On the one hand, there is a path of cuts: further decimating our steel industry and the town. On the other, a path of growth: an immediate gateway to rebuilding the industry.

The current plan from Tata is a hammer blow. It would severely shrink the plant: cutting production capacity by another 40%, with thousands of job losses. Another well-meaning proposal from the consultants Syndex also involves cutting capacity. It would also mean thousands of job losses: some immediately, and some in the longer term.

Why can’t we have another option? A path that would deliver profitability in the long term, and safeguard every job now. That’s the Unite plan. The cuts path wouldn’t just cost thousands of jobs on the site. It would also have massive knock-on effects on contractors, downstream sites, and the town and local economy of Port Talbot.

Our industry has suffered decades of decline. We don’t forget the impacts of the mine closures, or of the steel works at Ebbw Vale. We must not let Port Talbot be next. It is time to stop this vicious cycle.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

Progressives Call for Embrace of 'Green Steel' Manufacturing

By Kenny Stancil - Common Dreams, May 24, 2023

"It's time that the steel industry take the growing need and demand for fossil-free steel seriously," said one advocate.

Progressive organizers on Wednesday urged steelmakers to swiftly adopt the clean manufacturing methods needed to achieve a shift from coal-based steel to "green steel."

At the Great Designs in Steel conference held in a Detroit suburb, Public Citizen and Mighty Earth activists used a series of digital ads and mobile billboards to call on industry insiders and automotive executives to accelerate the nascent transition from dirty to clean steel by fully embracing low- to zero-carbon production processes—one of many changes that scientists say are necessary to avert the worst consequences of the fossil fuel-driven climate crisis.

"Steel manufacturing remains one of the most energy-intensive and polluting aspects of making a vehicle, but there are solutions to clean it up," Erika Thi Patterson, supply chain campaigns director at Public Citizen, said in a statement. "As companies and governments work to meet net-zero climate commitments, it's time that the steel industry take the growing need and demand for fossil-free steel seriously and embrace the cleaner technologies that exist today."

"Insiders at this conference," Patterson continued, "need to recognize the inevitability of green transportation and move in that direction quickly and forcefully."

At the conference venue, mobile billboards denounced steelmaker Cleveland-Cliffs Inc.'s recent announcement that it plans to stick with coal-powered blast furnaces in the near term. Rival company U.S. Steel, by contrast, is ramping up the use of lower-emission electric arc furnaces at its mini-mills.

Billboards with the message, "Cleveland-Cliffs: Ditch the past, embrace the Green Steel future!" circled the venue for the duration of the meeting.

Steel built the Rust Belt. Green steel could help rebuild it

By Katie Myers - Grist, May 11, 2023

In the Mon Valley of western Pennsylvania, steel was once a way of life, one synonymous with the image of rural, working-class Rust Belt communities. At its height in 1910, Pittsburgh alone produced 25 million tons of it, or 60 percent of the nation’s total. Bustling mills linger along the Monongahela River and around Pittsburgh, but employment has been steadily winding down for decades.

Though President Trump promised a return to the idealized vision of American steelmaking that Bruce Springsteen might sing about, the industry has changed since its initial slump four decades ago. Jobs declined 49 percent between 1990 and 2021, when increased efficiency saw the sector operating at its highest capacity in 14 years. Despite ongoing supply chain hiccups and inflation, demand continues growing globally, particularly in Asia. But even as demand for this essential material climbs, so too does the pressure to decarbonize its production.

Earlier this month, the progressive Ohio River Valley Institute released a study that found a carefully planned transition to “green” steel — manufactured using hydrogen generated with renewable energy — could be a climatic and economic boon. It argues that as countries work toward achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, a green steel boom in western Pennsylvania could help the U.S. meet that goal, make its steel industry competitive again, and employ a well-paid industrial workforce.

“A transition to fossil fuel-free steelmaking could grow total jobs supported by steelmaking in the region by 27 percent to 43 percent by 2031, forestalling projected job losses,” the study noted. “Regional jobs supported by traditional steelmaking are expected to fall by 30 percent in the same period.”

Green Steel in the Ohio River Valley: The Timing is Right for the Rebirth of a Clean, Green Steel Industry

By Jacqueline Ebner, Ph.D., Kathy Hipple, Nick Messenger, and Irina Spector, MBA - Bob Muehlenkamp, April 17, 2023

For more than a century, steel has played an important role in the economy and culture of the Ohio River Valley. But the traditional method of making steel, known as BF-BOF (blast furnace-blast oxygen furnace), requires lots of energy and produces lots of climate-warming emissions. The iron and steel sector is currently responsible for about 7% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, according to the International Energy Agency.

Shifting to fossil fuel-free steelmaking could reduce greenhouse gas emissions, boost jobs, and grow the region’s economy. Fossil fuel-free DRI-EAF (direct reduced iron-electric arc furnace) steelmaking uses green hydrogen—created with wind and solar energy—to make steel with nearly zero climate-warming emissions.

Investing in fossil fuel-free steelmaking is a win for the climate and the economy. This report looks at Mon Valley Works, a steelmaking facility in southwestern Pennsylvania, as a model for transitioning from carbon-intensive BF-BOF steelmaking to fossil fuel-free DRI-EAF steelmaking.

Key takeaways:

  • A transition to fossil fuel-free steelmaking could grow total jobs supported by steelmaking in the region by 27% to 43% by 2031, forestalling projected job losses. Regional jobs supported by traditional steelmaking are expected to fall by 30% in the same period, data show.
  • Transitioning to fossil fuel-free steelmaking will cut Pennsylvania’s industrial sector emissions by 4 million metric tons of CO2e per year, improving quality of life and saving the state $380 million in health, community, and environmental costs.
  • The Ohio River Valley is uniquely positioned to become a decarbonized industrial hub. A skilled workforce with applicable manufacturing experience, ready access to water and iron ore, and high potential for solar, wind, and green hydrogen development situate the region to lead a growing green manufacturing industry.
  • Billions in federal funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Inflation Reduction Act, and the CHIPS and Science Act will boost demand for American-made steel while supporting worker retraining programs, hydrogen infrastructure, and renewable energy development.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

Build back Better begins with funding to green Algoma Steel

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, July 6, 2021

On July 5, the federal government announced that $420 million in federal funding will go to Algoma Steel in Sault Ste. Marie Ontario, to enable the company to retrofit their operations and transform their coal-fired steelmaking processes to Electric-Arc Furnace production. The press release from the Prime Minister’s Office explains that Electric-Arc Furnace production is an electricity-based process, expected to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by more than 3 million metric tonnes per year by 2030, making Algoma the “greenest” steelmaker in Canada. At the same time, the transformation will create an estimated 500 construction and subcontracting jobs, as well as over 600 new co-op placements for students, and approximately 75 high-tech STEM jobs.

The total cost of Algoma’s transformation is estimated at $703 million over four years – $220 million will come from the federal Infrastructure Bank, and up to $200 million from the Net Zero Accelerator program, under the Strategic Innovation Fund. A major expenditure, but small compared to the $23 billion worth of support the government has provided since 2018 to the Coastal GasLink, Trans Mountain, and Keystone XL pipelines, according to a new report from the International Institute for Sustainable Development .

Algoma’s press release and its Environmental policies offer information about the company. A CBC summary of the funding announcement is here, and the Toronto Star offers an Opinion piece, “Justin Trudeau just gave one of Canada’s biggest polluters hundreds of millions of dollars – why won’t he show us the deal?” (July 5) . In that essay, author Heather Scofield states: “Algoma was first in line to get the federal funding because it was meant to set the tone for building back better. Let’s make sure it sets more than a tone, and actually sets standards of transparency, accountability and weaning our economy off fossil fuels too. ”

Workers at Algoma are represented by United Steelworkers Local 2251. From the national office, an article, “Canada’s Steel Industry Has A Secret Weapon That Could Soon Beat China’s Cheaper Bid” discusses the union’s hope that government green procurement policies will favour Canadian-made, low-carbon steel in future infrastructure projects. A February 2021 report from BlueGreen Canada made the same point about steel, aluminum and lumber products in Buy Clean: How Public Construction Dollars can create jobs and cut pollution . The Work and Climate Change Report previously reviewed some of the Canadian and international reports about greening steel in 2020, here . In summer 2021, European developments have been profiled “Green steel is picking up steam in Europefrom Canary Media, and “From Sweden, a Potential Breakthrough for Clean Steel” in Inside Climate News (June 24).

Canadian steel, concrete, aluminum and wood: low carbon solutions for public infrastructure

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, February 2, 2021

In a February 1 press release, Ken Neumann, National Director for Canada of the United Steelworkers says, “We need our governments to support the creation and retention of good jobs by strengthening Canadian industrial and manufacturing capacities in ways that support the low-carbon transition of the economy”. To support that point, Blue Green Canada has released a new report, Buy Clean: How Public Construction Dollars can create jobs and cut pollution . Buy Clean calls for the use of Canadian-made building products in infrastructure in order to reap the dual benefit of reducing carbon emissions and supporting local industry and jobs. The USW press release continues: “Buy Clean makes sense for Canada because it leverages our carbon advantage. Whether its steel, aluminum, cement or wood, building materials sourced from within Canada are typically lower carbon than imported materials” – thanks largely to our low-emissions energy supply and reduced transportation costs. The report recommends that all levels of government continue and expand the use of Buy Clean policies for procurement. The report also calls for an Industrial Decarbonization Strategy to encourage technological innovation in the manufacture of steel, aluminum, concrete and wood , and for a “Clean Infrastructure Challenge Fund” , to act as a demonstration fund modelled on the Low Carbon Economy Challenge, but available only for public infrastructure projects, not to private industry.

Buy Clean: How Public Construction Dollars can create jobs and cut pollution is also available in a French-language version, Acheter Propre: Créer des emplois et réduire la pollution par une utilisation judicieuse des fonds publics en construction . The report includes appendices for each of the sectors, providing brief but specific summaries of how Canadian industry has already achieved lower carbon processes than their competitors – particularly in steel and aluminum, and what further decarbonization opportunities remain.

The Buy Clean message seems closely related to the Stand Up for Steel national campaign by the United Steelworkers, which also calls for the use of Canadian-made steel in infrastructure projects. After the disruptive tariffs levied by the previous U.S. administration, the Stand up for Steel Action Plan also calls for the right for unions to initiate trade cases; for expanding the definition of ‘material injury’ in trade cases; and for a carbon border adjustment on imported steel.

Steel Arising

By Julian M Allwood, Cyrille F Dunant, Richard C Lupton, and André C H Serrenho - University of Cambridge, April 2019

The global steel industry is transforming from using iron ore to recycling scrap. Global arisings of steel scrap are likely to treble in the next thirty years and we will never need more blast furnaces than we have today. The extent and speed of this global transformation depends on two competing forces: on the one hand, today’s recycling technology cannot currently produce the highest qualities of high-volume steel econonically; on the other, recycling has the critical advantage that it reduces the greenhouse gas emissions released in producing steel to around a third of those from primary production. As the steel industry turns from ore to scrap and action on climate change accelerates, what opportunities does this create for steel in the UK?

UK consumers currently demand around 15 million tonnes per year of steel in final goods. Although the UK’s steel production has fallen to well below this figure, it manufactures goods containing around the same annual total. However, the UK largely exports its steel products and manufactured steel goods at low value, while importing most high-value final goods containing steel. Only one sixth of UK final consumption of steel goods is currently made with steel produced in the UK, and that is mainly lower value components for construction.

Despite this weak current position, the UK has four comparative advantages by which it could profit in the ongoing global transformation of steel production.

Read the report (Link).

Remembering the Deadly Donora Smog

By Kari Lydersen - In These Times, October 27, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

DONORA, PA — Forty-six years ago this week, a thick noxious cloud enveloped Donora, a steel mill town on a lush hillside above the Monongahela River 37 miles south of Pittsburgh. Residents were used to pollution from the town’s cluster of industries that formed the bedrock of the region’s economy making steel, wire and nails.

They were used to plumes of smoke billowing into the sky and seeing everything covered in red dust from the iron ore used to make steel, as Charles Stacey, a long-time resident, teacher and local historian, told In These Times on a visit in June.  

Stacey grew up by the river across from the Donora Zinc Works, where no vegetation grew because of the fumes.

“I didn’t see grass until I was 50,” he says. “Air pollution was a way of life in Donora. You put your hand out and you couldn’t see the tip of your fingers. You could trip off a curb because you couldn’t see. But usually by lunchtime, the wind would blow it away.”

On October 26, 1948, a Tuesday, the cloud did not move by lunchtime or by evening. The cloud didn’t lift the next day, or the next. The annual Halloween parade was held on Friday as usual, but you couldn’t see across the street. People struggled to breathe during the high school football game on Saturday.

Stacey, who was 16 at the time, described valiant firefighters going house to house checking on residents, carrying oxygen tanks, crawling and feeling their way along the streets they had grown up on because walking made it too difficult to see and breathe.

Investigations would later confirm that a temperature inversion, a layer of warm air hovering above the valley, was preventing the dissipation of air pollution from the mills—specifically from Donora Zinc Works, which produced a toxic blend of sulfuric acid, nitrogen dioxide, fluoride and other compounds.

Officials at U.S. Steel Corp., owner of the mills and the zinc works, maintained that the situation was not caused by their operations. For several days, the company refused to shut down despite public pleas to do so. The zinc works finally halted operations on Sunday. After a rain fell soon afterwards, the air began to clear.

At least 20 deaths were attributed to the pollution, and up to 7,000 people fell ill or were hospitalized. The total death toll could be pegged at more than 70, according to some reports, by comparing normal mortality rates with rates in the month following. The incident became known as the Donora Smog.

Read the entire article, here.

The Fine Print I:

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