Ambition to Action – The Sector’s Commitment to Decarbonisation
Pernelle Nunez, Deputy Secretary General and Director of Sustainability, International Aluminium Institute
Aluminium is a lightweight, durable metal that provides the backbone for a wide range of products and services essential to the lives we lead today – cars, aircraft, drink cans, window frames, solar panels, electrical cables are just a few. It is a metal whose prominence in our societies has grown significantly since the end of World War II. In 1950 global usage of aluminium was 1.7Mt, by 2022 it had risen to 108Mt and in 2050 it is expected to rise to 176Mt.
Despite the importance of aluminium, for years neither the material’s supply chain risks nor its sustainability impacts were given much consideration outside of the industry. Over the past decade or so, this has changed significantly, and questions are being asked by all stakeholders from project financiers and governments to customers, consumers and local communities. Where does it come from? What happens after I’ve finished using it? What impact might it have on the environment or local community?
The aluminium industry itself has long grappled with these sorts of questions and has an established history of sustainability-oriented development and growth. Issues such as energy efficiency, climate change impacts, waste and emissions management, and community engagement have increasingly influenced business decisions over the past several decades. Now, sustainability sits at the core of many companies’ value propositions. The sustainability challenges which the industry faces are significant and varied and with another climate conference (COP28) on the horizon, the industry’s role in mitigating climate change is set to take centre stage once again.
A Metal-intensive Future
Aluminium is a key metal in many sustainable solutions such as electric vehicles, solar panels, cabling and electrical infrastructure. Along with reducing production-related emissions, the aluminium industry can contribute to climate change efforts through emissions reductions in other sectors such as transport, building and construction and packaging. Increasing electrification, automation and the proliferation of green policies will necessitate an overhaul of current global energy systems to low-carbon equivalents. This transition will be significantly more metals-intensive and over the coming decades, the aluminium industry must find ways to increase production to unprecedented levels to meet growing demand from the transition, while at the same time reducing emissions to close to zero.
Since the landmark Paris COP, the terms ‘Paris-aligned’, ‘Below 2 Degrees’ or ‘1.5 Degrees-trajectory’ have become familiar in conversations about climate change ambitions or goals. For many, these terms, though clear in their intent for global and national climate efforts, are less clear if applied to a specific industry or organization. The IAI recognized this as a potential barrier to longer-term climate change planning and in 2020 launched Aluminium Sector Greenhouse Gas Pathways to 2050 . The report was the culmination of years of data collection followed by months of data collation, analysis, and deep discussion with representatives from all major aluminium producing regions in the world, and it outlines what it means for the sector to be ‘Paris-aligned’. Building on this work, a 1.5 degrees-aligned trajectory broadly aligned with the International Energy Agency’s Net-Zero Scenario, was launched at COP26 and indicated the aluminium sector, which in 2018 accounted for approximately 1.1 billion tonnes of CO2eq. emissions, would have to reduce its emissions to just 50 million tonnes CO2eq. by 2050 – a sizeable task.
Actions Speak Louder than Words
To reduce sector emissions by over 1 billion tonnes over the next 30 years, the IAI outlined three distinct pathways for action focused on: electricity generation and transmission; direct process and thermal energy generation; and circularity and resource efficiency.
The three pathways take into consideration the diverse nature of the industry and they acknowledge that it is unlikely that every pathway towards zero emissions will be the same. Instead, each producer will respond based on local availability of options, natural endowments and under a variety of policy and financing frameworks. What is common to all producers, however, is the desire to have a positive impact on the global climate change agenda – and we see examples of progress towards this shared ambition with significant investments and innovation across the value chain.
Climate change, in the context of broader sustainability, is a high priority for aluminium producers with action being taken by all companies and not just those with existing low-carbon operations. Figure 1 demonstrates the breadth of action across the sector – from significant shifts in coal-fired power generation, to hydropower in China, to new inert anode technology in North America and electrification of thermal processes across multiple locations. Alongside these developments in the production of primary metal, recycling continues to be a key emissions reduction lever with new large-scale recycling investments across multiple regions.
Figure 1:Examples of aluminum producers taking action to reduce emissions across every stage of production.
In parallel to the industry’s efforts on decarbonisation, there have been efforts to better establish wide-scale resilience to a changing climate across its operations and communities. Recent work on Climate Resilience and Human Health has catalogued cause-effect links between climate change and human health impacts as the industry tries to better understand potential risks. A risk assessment tool is also under development and is designed to complement ongoing work at aluminium-producer sites. This two-pronged approach to climate – tackling mitigation and resilience across all vulnerabilities including infrastructure, transport, supply chains, nature and biodiversity – is essential and is becoming more and more evident in driving corporate actions.
Advancing Aluminum’s Agenda
As companies continue to develop and implement their climate change plans, the IAI is working to support the advancement of the industry’s agenda. A key step in this is ensuring consistency and transparency in GHG emissions reporting and tracking. One of the most significant steps forward for the global industry to date will be the launch of the IAI’s Aluminium GHG Initiative at COP28, which will demonstrate commitment to reducing the significant greenhouse gas emissions from production in line with global scientific targets and national policies and commit the industry to transparently tracking GHG progress.
To lead the initiative, the IAI will report the annual total global greenhouse gas emissions of the sector to provide insight on whole-of-industry progress, which is often difficult for stakeholders to track. In addition, publicly track and report on member company’s ambition and progress in greenhouse gas emission reductions. Meanwhile, individual companies will commit to disclosure of long-term reduction plans and targets, along with interim milestones and disclosure of annual emissions to allow progress to be tracked at a corporate level. This initiative is designed to provide a new level of transparency to the sector’s efforts to reduce GHG emissions by making available consistent data that demonstrates the actual impact of the actions being taken. It encourages ambition and will maintain accountability through disclosure of evolving emissions trajectories over the critical years ahead.
Emissions reduction at the scale and pace required to meet global climate goals will be a task that requires huge investment – an estimated $1tn for the industry to get to net-zero by mid-century. This investment will need to come in a variety of forms, from increased public-private partnership to cross-sector investment, climate-aligned finance initiatives and through funding for innovative technology advancements across the value chain. We see examples of this happening already across the sector, and it is hoped that the provision of clear, consistent and credible data for the industry’s progress through this new initiative will foster further collaborative action.
Every year in the run up to COP, we often see a flurry of announcements and initiatives competing for the spotlight; a chance for organisations across all sectors to demonstrate their plans and commitments to the global climate agenda. Yet, often after the conference has run out of steam, so too does the enthusiasm. For me, after almost a year of being on maternity leave since the last COP, I am heartened and optimistic to return to an industry united by a commitment to support the global decarbonization agenda and one which has pressed ahead, forged partnerships across the value chain and is committed to turning ambition into action.
About International Aluminium Institute
The International Aluminium Institute (IAI) is the only body representing the global primary aluminium industry. The Institute has the most comprehensive global data on aluminium with more than 40 years of analysis on production, consumption, energy use and environmental impact.
For over fifty years, the International Aluminium Institute (IAI) has brought together the Aluminium industry to collaborate on issues of common interest. At this year’s World Climate Summit, the IAI, a Principal Partner, once again brings together industry leaders to discuss the pressing issue of climate change and to explore specific technology challenges; investment requirements; and the need for collaboration with the public sector, investors and customers to deliver on global climate goals. Join us for a workshop looking at the sector’s progress in turning ambition into action on Thursday 7th December 2023.
Learn more about International Aluminium Institute: www.international-aluminium.org
About the Author
Pernelle Nunez is the Deputy Secretary General and Director of Sustainability at the International Aluminium Institute. She is responsible for the Institute’s broad sustainability work program including its dedicated GHG Pathways Working Group which brings together aluminium producers from all major producing regions. She has worked on a range of collaborative global projects related to climate change,environmental impacts, life cycle assessment, sustainable mining practices and waste management. Pernelle was a Lead Author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) 2019 Methodology Report Update to the 2006 National Greenhouse Gas Inventory Guidelines. Pernelle holds a MSci Geology (Hons) from the Royal School of Mines, Imperial College London and a Postgraduate Certificate in Sustainable Value Chains from the University of Cambridge’s Institute for Sustainability Leadership.