Edwin Basson, Director General, worldsteel

29 January 2019

It is now a decade after the financial crises, and yet as we begin 2019 a number of important issues remain either unresolved or a matter for potential instability and conflict. US/China trade negotiations, Brexit, population migration and border issues (EU and US), climate change, China’s economic growth, Middle East conflict, just to name a few. This year will hopefully provide direction on how these important issues could be resolved.

While many materials claim to either enable or support the sustainability of modern society, few can make this claim for as long a period, or with a similar diversity of applications as steel. To maintain this position will not be easy. Requirements coming from wider society are ever more exacting, competing materials are improving, and new high performing materials are being developed continuously.

On the immediate horizon we have two specific challenges to be addressed.

The first is climate change, where steel has an important contribution to make. The steel industry produced around 1.8 billion tonnes in 2018, 70% of which is new steel produced from raw materials. CO2 emitted during this production is estimated to be between 7% and 9% of the global total.

At the same time, steel plays a critical role in enabling the emissions reductions outlined in the Paris agreement. Decarbonisation is steel intensive, whether we are talking about renewable energy, mass transport, smart cities or electrification.

The membership of the World Steel Association, which represents more than 80% of global steel production, continues to find ways to drive efficiency in energy use and product design. We are working on an exciting new programme which we hope to launch very soon. Watch this space!

The second challenge is the growing focus on a circular approach in production – the so-called circular economy – as a basis for economic policy making. This could potentially have an important impact on all metals, but steel as a material is inherently reusable and recyclable and will undoubtedly experience an impact from circular economic policies. After all, not many materials can claim to be key to a reduce/reuse, remanufacture, recycle world.

To remain a material of choice in the development story of modern society, we in the steel industry have much to do to explain our importance to future success.