Wind turbines. Image: Pixabay
Environment Opinion

Climate change: making mining part of the solution

Carly Leonida asks: is the mining industry doing enough to tackle climate change?

Climate change felt like a fitting topic to write about today.

As I pen this, I have the BBC News channel on in the background and I can see the tents of Extinction Rebellion protesters squatting in London’s Trafalgar Square; a stark reminder that we, as a society, have a significant problem on our hands.

And, if we don’t act fast, it’s going to get a whole lot worse.

There are aspects of the mining industry of which I’m not proud, but I do admire our collective commitment to improving the sector’s sustainability.

Striving to be a part of the solution, rather than just the cause, is an important differentiator for me.

I was pleased to see that this year, the Intergovernmental Forum on Mining, Minerals, Metals and Sustainable Development has chosen to theme its AGM on tackling climate change. The meeting, which is currently taking place in Switzerland, is not open to the media. However, you can follow its proceedings here.

Why is the event important?

Because we have seen a lot of action this year from the mining industry based around climate change.

From new equipment aimed at reducing mine energy usage to vendors introducing educational days for their staff, and mining companies like BHP and Rio Tinto affirming their intention to cut carbon emissions and linking the results to executive pay.

At an individual company level, and at an industry level (see the ICMM’s Mining with Principles programme), the commitment to change is there. What we need to back this up and push forward at an international level is support from government, and this is something the IGF has the ability to deliver.

Another initiative that has garnered much support is the World Bank’s Climate-Smart Mining facility. The fund was launched in May with the aim of making the metals and minerals extraction industries more sustainable. Partners include the German government, as well as forward-thinking miners like Rio Tinto and Anglo American.

The facility was established followed the publication of a World Bank report which found that clean energy technologies such as wind, solar and batteries – all of which are crucial to a global reduction in fossil fuel usage – are actually more material intensive than traditional energy systems.

As such, the demand for minerals and metals used to create green-energy technologies, like copper, lithium, cobalt, graphite and nickel, is steadily and, in some case, exponentially increasing.

Analysis by the World Bank projects that the global production of lithium will rise by 965% by 2050. Cobalt will see a 585% increase, graphite a 383% rise, indium 241% and vanadium 173%.

To satisfy this appetite, the mining industry will need to dig deeper and process even more material. The industry currently accounts for around 11% of energy usage globally and, according to the Coalition for Eco-Efficient Comminution, 3% of that is consumed by the crushing and grinding of ore alone.

That’s the equivalent to the energy consumption of a country the size of Germany.

Mining experts at the World Bank state that, if left unchecked, the volume of mining taking place between 2020 and 2050 would significantly increase global emissions, water use, global waste and potentially result in conflict among communities.

It’s a vicious circle: unless miners make serious, sustained changes to their own extractive processes and energy sources, and unless they receive the support and guidance required from local and national governments, the world will not be able to successfully transition to a low-carbon future.

Is the mining industry doing enough to tackle climate change?

No, not yet. But I’m confident that with the right support we will.

Investors are getting smart, and they are leaning heavily on mining companies to change their ways. That combined with the tenacious energy and drive of stakeholders at every level will ensure that we play our part.

 

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