Canadian Steel Producers Seek Federal Partnership on Climate

Written by Catherine Cobden, President at the Canadian Steel Producers Association

The federal government is ardently working on its strategy to combat climate change.  On December 11, 2020, the federal government released its long-expected climate plan “A Healthy Environment and A Healthy Economy.”  This represents a significant milestone for the Liberals on the delivery of a key campaign promise they made to Canadians.

Its details include many threads of initiatives and ideas that had been floated by Ottawa over the last several years to develop an approach that is both ambitious and comprehensive.  The plan sets the carbon price at a hefty level that many see as being needed to drive real change.  It also offers compensatory paybacks to Canadians and Canadian businesses for the effort.  With its 64 initiatives (from tax rebates to next gen transportation and energy production to industrial transformation to new procurement practices, etc.), the plan’s vision is clearly to accelerate Canada’s transition to a low carbon economy while attempting to offset the greatest potential economic damage along the way.

For our part, Canadian steel producers have signaled our readiness to partner with the federal government on this plan.  It may seem strange to contemplate given that we are heavy emitters and lack the technological solutions to achieve deep reductions to our carbon emissions.  

Let me explain.

For starters, Canadian steel producers have been committed to doing what they can to reduce their GHG emissions for years.  Globally, we are amongst the lowest GHG intensity steel producers in the world.  To date we have acted to reduce our emissions level by 17 per cent since 1990.  Reducing our emissions further gets a lot harder as carbon itself is a key input into the complex process of producing steel.

In 2019, the CSPA Board tasked a team with broad expertise to develop the necessary idea bank and potential roadmaps to reduce our climate emissions.  In March 2020, we released our resulting Climate Call to Action plan that articulated our long-term aspirational goal to be Net-Zero by 2050.  The plan identified the key conditions for success to secure the significant capital investments needed to transform towards a net zero greenhouse gas emission goal:

  • New partnerships and research collaborations to develop breakthrough technologies and new innovative products; 
  • Support mechanisms for the adoption of new technologies and processes; 
  • Expanded access to abundant low/zero carbon energy supplies for steel manufacturing; 
  • A level playing field with competing steel producing nations to ensure that steel entering Canada is held to an equivalent carbon requirement; and 
  • Recognition of the carbon advantages of using Canadian steel in domestic infrastructure projects.

Upon reviewing the December federal plan, the alignment between our vision and that of the federal government is clear.  Many of the key themes and approaches are echoed in both plans.  This is obviously a strong basis for the necessary partnerships to come.

We also noted that the government intends to increase carbon pricing at an unprecedented pace.  While there is much uncertainty in our future along this journey, one thing is clear.  This level of carbon price will deeply affect our industry’s competitiveness and could expose our country to more carbon intensive steels from other jurisdictions in a short period of ten years.  To combat this, we must take the steps needed to protect and transform our sector.

The scale of what we need to do is daunting and will take significant time.  The proposed plan must therefore compel us – and our partners – to move urgently to create these new conditions and partnership to find the needed solutions to support our low carbon transformation.

We cannot afford to wait for months or years to get moving.  For our workers, communities, and the producers, this has become existential and urgent.  Thankfully, we have our plan. And now the government has its own.  We are ready to act together. 

Catherine Cobden

About the Author

Catherine Cobden was appointed President of the Canadian Steel Producers Association in January 2019.  She has over 25 years of industry association, regulatory and advocacy experience in Ottawa.  Prior to taking the helm of the CSPA, Catherine was President of Cobden Strategies Inc. where she worked with all levels of government and key stakeholders to achieve constructive solutions to challenges facing Canadian natural resource industries.   Catherine also spent 13 years at the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC) where, as Executive Vice President of FPAC, she played a key role in developing the sector’s long-term transformation and innovation strategy.

Catherine is a strong advocate for climate leadership and a founding member of Nature Canada’s “Women for Nature” initiative.  She is a Chemical Engineer from the University of Toronto and is on the Board of Directors of COREM – a world recognized innovation organization for Canada’s mining sector.   Catherine lives in Ottawa with her husband and two children.  

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About the CSPA

The Canadian Steel Producers Association (CSPA) is the national voice of Canada’s $15B steel industry. Our member companies annually produce approximately 13 million tonnes of primary steel as well as over one million tonnes of steel pipe and tube products in facilities located across Canada.  Domestic steel operations directly employ some 23,000 Canadians while supporting an additional 100,000 indirect jobs.