Politics

Steelworker of 40 years demands green plans from Boris Johnson at COP26 summit



A steelworker who has spent nearly 40 years in the industry tonight urges Boris Johnson to use next month’s climate summit to reveal how the Government will turn the sector green.

Alan Coombs, 56, called on the Prime Minister to outline his plan for making Britain’s mills more environmentally-friendly – helping the drive to slash carbon emissions to net-zero by 2050 while preserving tens of thousands of jobs.

Mr Johnson will welcome world leaders to Glasgow for the COP6 negotiations in less than two weeks.

But big questions loom over how the PM wants the UK’s steel industry – and other energy-hungry sectors – to survive and thrive amid the global push to tackle climate change.








The steel industry is Britain’s biggest single industrial emitter of CO2
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Jonathan Myers)



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“At the moment I don’t see a lot of action,” Alan told the Mirror, which has been campaigning to Save Our Steel since 2015.

“There’s no doubt whatsoever that if there isn’t help going forward there would be thousands of job cuts.

“It would be a travesty because we would end up importing steel from all around the world to the UK.

“That would be an absolute disaster and a false economy.”

The Trades Union Congress has warned that up to 660,000 jobs in manufacturing and supply chains could be at risk if the UK fails to transition to net-zero as fast as other nations.








The sector directly employs 33,700 workers
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Posts under threat include 27,000 in steel, which is Britain’s biggest industrial emitter of CO2 but which employs 33,700 workers directly and supports another 42,000 supply chain jobs.

Community steelworkers’ union official Alan, who can see Port Talbot’s blast furnaces from his home in the South Wales town, said: “Everybody in the industry knows we’ve got to change how we operate.

“But what are we going to adopt instead and when are we going to start investing in the plants so we can drive net-zero?”

Some UK steel production is already fully electrified, using electric arc furnaces – but they can only make limited types of steel.

High-grade products for cars or wind turbines cannot currently be manufactured using electric arc furnaces.







The Mirror has been campaigning to Save Our Steel since 2015



Meanwhile, foreign rivals are forging ahead.

In August, Swedish firm Hybrit made its first delivery of “green steel” produced with hydrogen from electrolysis of water with renewable electricity.

Another Swedish firm, H2 Green Steel, is planning a hydrogen plant that will begin production in 2024.

Four months ago, Three Consulting announced a green steel project in Missouri.

ArcelorMittal is planning trials in Germany and France.

“Firms in Europe have already started the process and we have barely scratched the surface,” said Alan.








It is a foundation industry, supplying other sectors with materials vital for production
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“People are already moving in that direction and they’re getting support off the governments.

“I know there are talks going at (UK) government level but none of it is filtering down to the workplace, so the problem becomes that when there’s a vacuum, people tend to worry about what the future is going to look like.

“In the next few years we have got to change drastically – and without a strategic plan, that leaves a lot of worry and unanswered questions for the workforce.”

Alan has grudging admiration for the way the PM talks about net-zero and the importance of the steel industry “without actually doing anything”.








Boris Johnson welcomes world leaders to Glasgow next month for the COP26 summit
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“He’s played a blinder, to be perfectly honest,” said Alan.

“It’s disappointing that nothing has been announced and that there doesn’t seem to be any progress we are hearing about.

“Whether he’s saving it for COP26 to announce something – we live in hope.

“We need to know what the collaboration is going to be between the steel industry and government, and we need to get on with it.

“Everybody else will steal a march on us and it would be nice to be at the front of the transformation.”








Insiders fear European rivals are marching ahead on switching to environmentally-friendly production methods
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He hopes for match funding for green steel projects – if a company invests in green technology, the Government should pump in an equal amount.

“I don’t think anybody in Europe is going to be able to do the transformation without government support. It would be very difficult, if not impossible,” said Alan.

Some insiders fear the Government would be content to let the steel industry wither because of the positive impact on emissions figures.

Others say steel is a foundation sector, without which a modern economy cannot function and that importing steel – shipped thousands of miles across oceans by diesel-belching vessels – from countries with worse environmental standards would simply offshore carbon emissions.








The TUC fears 27,000 steel jobs could be at risk
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Alan said: “Shooting ourselves in the foot would be an understatement.

“OK, we might hit our targets but we will have thousands upon thousands of people on the dole – and we still wouldn’t have resolved the issue because we would be importing it from dirty suppliers.”

The Trades Union Congress urged the Government to follow the recommendations of its Green Jobs Taskforce and unleash an £85billion green recovery package to create 1.24 million jobs.

General secretary Frances O’Grady said “There’s still time to protect vital jobs in steel and manufacturing – but the clock is ticking.








TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady
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“Ministers must do far more to help industries get ready for net-zero.

“Without proper investment we risk losing hundreds of thousands of decent jobs to competitor nations.

“That would be a hammer blow for communities across the UK.

“The Government must get its act together before it is too late.”

A Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy spokeswoman said: “We are already working closely with the UK’s steel sector to help it go greener and manage energy costs.

“This includes providing more than £2billion to help with the costs of electricity and £250million to reduce carbon emissions.

“All this will help the industry to help tackle climate change, create jobs and remain competitive internationally.”

Trades Union Congress general secretary Frances O’Grady writes exclusively for the Mirror

In just over a fortnight’s time the UK will host the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow.

The summit will tell us how serious word leaders are about protecting jobs and the planet.








Ms O’Grady has written exclusively for the Mirror
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Daily Mirror)



Are we just going to get more hot air and soundbites?

Or will we see decisive action to deal with the global climate emergency and to safeguard livelihoods?

Boris Johnson likes to boast about being a “green Prime Minister”.

But he’s not doing nearly enough to support British businesses and manufacturers get ready for net-zero.








She wants the PM to seize the initiative at COP26
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Image:

Chris J Ratcliffe)



Our energy-intensives industries – like steel and heavy manufacturing – employ hundreds of thousands of people in good, high-skilled jobs.

These industries can play a vital part in our future.

But they need far more help from ministers to reduce harmful emissions and to develop new, greener technologies for producing goods.

This is happening in other leading economies – like America, France and Germany – who are investing big sums to renew their industrial heartlands.

But our government is dragging its feet and not showing the same ambition.

If ministers don’t get their act together, the UK will pay a heavy price.

TUC analysis shows that up to 660,000 jobs could be at risk if we do not make the transition to net-zero as fast as our competitor nations, and businesses choose to locate overseas where there’s better support for new, green technology.








The TUC fears dole queues will grow unless the Government supports the transition
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That would be a hammer blow for communities across the UK and a huge loss of talent.

Generations of workers have made our steel, chemicals, textiles and manufacturing industries the envy of the world. Their legacy must not be squandered.

The UK can be a world-leader in creating good, green jobs.

But we need more than bluster from the Prime Minister.

We need proper investment in our manufacturing base so that today’s workers know their jobs will be safe and that their children will have a bright future too.

What would Labour do?

Labour used its annual conference to announce a £3billion, 10-year blueprint to slash steel industry emissions.

The party’s Plan for Clean Steel would achieve “near-zero emission steel production by 2035”.

It pledged to work with sector bosses, unions and workers to provide match-funding for projects which would make manufacturing more environmentally-friendly.








Labour unveiled a £3bn, 10-year plan at its conference in Brighton last month
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Image:

AFP via Getty Images)



Labour also promised to meet “up to half the cost of helping industry roll out capital investment in new steel processing equipment, with a £3bn Steel Renewal Fund to provide a long-term funding guarantee over the next decade”.

Shadow Business Secretary Ed Miliband told the Mirror tonight: “Steel is a vital industry for our future prosperity, resilience and national security.

“The lack of a clean steel transition plan backed by investment from ministers this week will leave workers and steel communities worried by the Government’s failure to step up and stand behind this crucial foundation industry.








Shadow Business Secretary Ed Miliband blasted the Government’s failure to bring forward a plan
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Image:

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“The Prime Minister must outline a plan for greening heavy industry when he hosts world leaders in Glasgow.

“Steel has a bright future, but the Government needs to sufficiently invest at scale and get our industry ahead in the global race – not leave it hobbled and exposed.

“Instead, they are shirking this task and leaving industry and workers to stand alone.”





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