Why the aluminium industry must be at COP28

By Pernelle Nunez, Deputy Secretary General / Director – Sustainability and Marlen Bertram, Director – Scenarios & Forecasts

Across the planet, climate change disrupts lives and impacts economies. As temperatures continue to rise, we’re seeing the deadly results of climate-related disasters such as droughts, extreme flooding, and wildfires.

The United Nations is clear on what needs to be done: the Paris Agreement on climate change states that emissions must be cut by almost half by 2030 to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. All sectors must transform their operations and processes to tackle climate change, and the aluminium industry is no different.

As it stands, our industry contributes 2% of all anthropogenic emissions globally. That’s 1.1 billion tonnes of CO2 annually. Therefore, it is clear the industry must take action to reduce emissions across each chain of its production process.

COP28, which takes place in the UAE in November and December, presents a significant opportunity for the aluminium industry to unite and commit to global sustainable development efforts. It also offers a forum for our industry to collaborate with other sectors, and put plans in place for a more sustainable future for all.

It’s now or never.

Powering a better society

Aluminium continues to play a critical role in modern society, and the industry is a significant contributor to the global economy. It pours in billions of dollars in taxes, provides millions of skilled jobs worldwide, and creates infrastructure that is the foundation for cities, towns, and villages across the continents.

Analysis carried out at the International Aluminium Institute (IAI) expects demand for aluminium to increase by 81% by 2050 as energy, transportation, construction, and packaging sectors look to decarbonise their processes. This demand is set to increase by almost 40% by 2030, with two-thirds of this growth coming from China. Alongside Asia, North America, and Europe, these four regions will account for more than 90% of the additional 33.3 Mt of aluminium required globally to meet demand.

Because aluminium can be recycled on an almost infinite basis with no loss of quality, and, on average, one tonne of recycled aluminium will save over 16 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, it is clear why the strategic importance of aluminium is set to increase as economies set a path towards more sustainable and circular production models.

However, while the metal is sustainable, we are all too aware that reducing emissions from production is challenging. The 1.1 billion tonnes of CO2 that aluminium production generates every year is a significant footprint, and with aluminium production ramping up, it is a growing challenge. As an industry, we must come together to find solutions.

Supporting the decarbonisation of other sectors

COP28 provides our industry with a global platform to take action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This is why the IAI has modelled a 1.5 Degree Scenario to guide our members’ actions to meet the IEA’s Net-Zero by 2050 goals, and why we have set out three Greenhouse Gas Pathways (GHG) to 2050: electricity decarbonisation, direct process emissions reduction, and increased recycling and resource efficiency.

From electric cabling to energy storage and transportation to smart buildings, aluminium has a central role in delivering low-carbon solutions. By increasing the use of recycled materials and significantly expanding renewable electricity sources for production, the aluminium industry can help other industries down their own paths towards net-zero.

Aligned with the IAI’s three GHG pathways, we are seeing direct action being taken. China, which currently produces almost 60% of the world’s aluminium, has moved much of its coal-fire production to hydropower in the Yunnan province. Meanwhile, green technologies such as inert anode electrolysis, automatic sorting of recycled aluminium alloys, and carbon capture and storage are being introduced. We are also seeing the use of smelters as virtual batteries in Germany, the rise in the adoption of wind energy across European producers, and the use of lighter vehicles (with associated emissions savings) for transporting goods in India.

All of these changes are contributing to a greener future. By investing in these technologies and projects, the aluminium industry is taking strong and direct action to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals on climate change.

But we can’t stop there.

COP28 is collaboration in action

To make the green transition a reality, partnership is key. Driving down the cost of clean technologies and processes can only happen at the speed we require it to through being present at top-table discussions on the world stage, and COP28 represents this opportunity.

Against a backdrop of rising inflation, an increasingly severe geopolitical situation, and an energy security crisis, we must remain strong in our commitment to decarbonise. Strengthening partnerships between policymakers, governments, the finance sector, investors, and companies is crucial to developing and rolling out solutions, particularly among hard-to-abate sectors such as ours.

To achieve this, the aluminium industry must show up in numbers at COP28 and be open to collaborating and learning. To fail to do so would send a message that we are not serious about the climate emergency at a time when we should be more serious than ever.

About the authors

Pernelle is responsible for the Institute’s broad sustainability work program. In addition to being a spokesperson for the IAI, Pernelle manages the Institute’s Greenhouse Gas Pathways Working Group and Environment and Energy Committee.

Marlen is responsible for IAI’s material flow analysis, including the Alucycle visualisation and develops scenarios and forecasts for the industry. Marlen also manages work related to aluminium recycling and greenhouse gas modelling.