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Global iron and steel plant CO2 emissions and carbon-neutrality pathways


The highly energy-intensive iron and steel industry contributed about 25% (ref. 1) of global industrial CO2 emissions in 2019 and is therefore critical for climate-change mitigation. Despite discussions of decarbonization potentials at national and global levels2,3,4,5,6, plant-specific mitigation potentials and technologically driven pathways remain unclear, which cumulatively determines the progress of net-zero transition of the global iron and steel sector. Here we develop a CO2 emissions inventory of 4,883 individual iron and steel plants along with their technical characteristics, including processing routes and operating details (status, age, operation-years etc.). We identify and match appropriate emission-removal or zero-emission technologies to specific possessing routes, or what we define thereafter as a techno-specific decarbonization road map for every plant. We find that 57% of global plants have 8–24 operational years, which is the retrofitting window for low-carbon technologies. Low-carbon retrofitting following the operational characteristics of plants is key for limiting warming to 2 °C, whereas advanced retrofitting may help limit warming to 1.5 °C. If each plant were retrofitted 5 years earlier than the planned retrofitting schedule, this could lead to cumulative global emissions reductions of 69.6 (±52%) gigatonnes (Gt) CO2 from 2020 to 2050, almost double that of global CO2 emissions in 2021. Our results provide a detailed picture of CO2 emission patterns associated with production processing of iron and steel plants, illustrating the decarbonization pathway to the net-zero-emissions target with the efforts from each plant.

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Fig. 1: Maps of iron and steel plants CO2 emissions in 2019.
Fig. 2: CO2 emissions and iron and steel output from global plants in 2019, by region, age and the operation-years.
Fig. 3: Cumulative mitigation of CO2 emissions from iron and steel plants assuming different improving strategies from 2020 to 2050.
Fig. 4: Remaining CO2 emissions budget under the 2 °C and 1.5 °C climate limits and cumulative CO2 emissions from iron and steel plants under different scenarios from 2020 to 2050.

Data availability

Data for the numerical results plotted in Figs. 14 are provided at The link consists of two groups of information on global iron and steel plants: (1) CO2 emission for each iron and steel plant globally; (2) ownership information for iron and steel plants globally. This study also used data and information from other sources. Data for global iron and steel production by country are available from the World Steel Association website: Data for energy consumption for the iron and steel industry by fuel type are available from the IEA World Energy Statistics datasets:

Code availability

Data processing code for the plant-level CO2 emissions can be found at


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We thank all group members of CEADs (Carbon Emission Accounts & Datasets; for data compilation and validation. CEADs advocates for transparent and free data compilation and sharing to the public. We thank Qiang Zhang from the Department of Earth System Science, Tsinghua University, for valuable discussion. We acknowledge support from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41921005, 7221101088), the National Key R&D Program of China (2022YFE0208500, 2022YFE0208700), the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NE/V002414/1) and the Energy Foundation (G-2009-32416 and G-2015-32938).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



D.G. and T.L. designed the study. T.L. performed the analyses, with support from D.W., W.Z. and C.C. on datasets and from S.M., W.Z., J.M. S.T. and X.Y. on analytical approaches and discussions. T.L. led the writing, with input from all co-authors.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Dabo Guan.

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Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information

Nature thanks Wolfgang Bleck and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work. Peer reviewer reports are available.

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Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Fig. 1 Schematic diagram of building the CEADs-GSEI.

The whole process includes three main parts: (1) data collection; cylinders represent data categories and circular parallelograms represent specific external data sources; (2) annual activity data calculation; rectangles represent specific information covered in the steelworks information database, rounded rectangles represent processing units within iron and steel plants and diamonds represent calculation processes; (3) CO2 emission estimations and uncertainty analysis; diamonds represent calculation processes.

Extended Data Fig. 2 Maps of the crude steel capacity of iron and steel plants in 2019.

Iron and steel plants are classified into 17 types by iron and steel processing routes and annual crude steel capacity in 2019 (≤9 Mt, ≤ 17 Mt and ≤26 Mt). Colour of points shows the iron and steel processing routes and size of points indicates the capacity size.

Extended Data Fig. 3 Definition of the ten regions in this study.

Colours of areas represent the region classification in this study.

Extended Data Fig. 4 Cumulative annual CO2 emissions in the current operating round from all existing iron and steel plants by region.

Annual CO2 emissions under the 25-year retrofitting cycle are shown with darker shade and annual CO2 emissions under the corresponding average retrofitting cycle are shown with lighter shade.

Extended Data Fig. 5 Cumulative CO2 emissions of the iron and steel industry under SSP1, SSP2 and SSP5 by region from 2020 to 2050.

Colours of bars represent the low-carbon scenarios under different SSPs. Lines of each bar indicate the cumulative emission gap caused by faster and slower retrofitting under the corresponding low-carbon scenario compared with the default scenario under SSP1, SSP2 and SSP5.

Extended Data Fig. 6 Map of the capacity of global iron and steel processing units.

Colour of points shows the processing type of each unit, including 14 types, namely: iron making and casting, steelmaking (BOF, EAF, others), steel refining, coking, powdering, sintering, steel casting and forgings, steel rolling, coal-recovery plants, oxygen-producing plants, power supply units, reheating furnaces, air-separation plants and other plants; size of points indicates the capacity size.

Extended Data Fig. 7 Parameters setting of low-carbon pathways for iron and steel plants in countries planning to achieve carbon neutrality earlier than 2050 or by 2050 (C1).

Grey rectangles represent the processing routes. Blue rectangles represent the corresponding processing routes after low-carbon retrofitting. Rounded rectangles represent the emission-reduction strategies. Diamonds represent the judgement condition.

Extended Data Fig. 8 Parameters setting of low-carbon pathways for iron and steel plants in countries planning to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060 or later (C2).

Grey rectangles represent the processing routes. Blue rectangles represent the corresponding processing routes after low-carbon retrofitting. Rounded rectangles represent the emission-reduction strategies. Diamonds represent the judgement condition.

Supplementary information

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This file contains Supplementary Sections 1–11 and Supplementary Tables 1–6.

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Lei, T., Wang, D., Yu, X. et al. Global iron and steel plant CO2 emissions and carbon-neutrality pathways. Nature 622, 514–520 (2023).

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