Check out this great graph that the UK Mineral Products Association (MPA) released in its latest sustainable development report this week. It lays out where the MPA says the various direct and indirect costs come from climate change policies per tonne of cement.
Graph 1: The cumulative burden of direct and indirect cost of climate change policies on the cement sector (per tonne of cement). GBP£1 = Euro0.94 at time of writing. Source: MPA.
If it’s correct then the two biggest contributors from carbon taxes on the price of cement in the UK arise from the Carbon Price Support (CPS) mechanism and the Renewable Obligation (RO). Between them the two policies account for around two-thirds of the carbon tax burden on the price of cement. Of note to an industry advocacy body like the MPA, both of these derive from local legislation and they could be changed or dispensed with separate to the Brexit negotiations to extricate the UK from the European Union that have just officially started.
The MPA then goes on to warn that these added costs could rise from GBP£3.24/t at present to GBP£4/t in 2020 and then the truly terrifying (to energy intensive manufacturers at least) GBP£17/t. Subsequently the MPA has flagged these potentially mounting costs as the biggest threat to the UK cement industry in the near future. Failure to act could mean more foreign imports, loss of jobs and damage to the security of supply. All very heavy stuff. The MPA’s warning was nicely timed to precede the UK government’s response to a consultation on another decarbonisation scheme, the Contracts for Difference (CfD) scheme. Here, the government is about to exempt high-energy users, including cement producers.
Essentially, the key message from the MPA’s report is that the cement sector is picking up but it is still below sales levels in 2007. At the same time it has made all these environmental improvements and, now, steadily tightening regulations threaten its future. Just compare this with the situation in the US where the Portland Cement Association (PCA) recently applauded President Donald Trump’s executive order to roll back environmental legislation from the Obama administration. Despite this it insisted that its members were committed to manufacturing products with a ‘minimal’ environmental footprint.
Funnily enough the MPA didn’t mention environmental issues when it released its updated Brexit priorities for the UK government. This is understandable given the graph above that suggests that the majority of the carbon costs on cement production come from UK legislation. However, sharing a land border with the EU south of Northern Ireland may give rise to all sorts of market skulduggery once any sort of post-Brexit deal becomes clear. And this doesn’t even take into account moving secondary cementitious materials about, like slag, or the UK’s international market in solid recovered fuels (SRF) and the like. Differences in UK and EU overall carbon costs on cement may start to have acute implications for producers in both jurisdictions as the negotiations build. In this atmosphere moves like Ireland’s Quinn Cement’s last month, to build a terminal on the UK side of the Irish border, make a lot of sense.