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Climate change – meeting a critical global challenge

23 August 2017

Climate change is undoubtedly the biggest environmental challenge facing us all.

Indeed, in March 2017, a report from the World Meteorological Organisation stated that climate change has now taken the planet into ‘uncharted territory’ – as evidenced by the continued melting of ice in the arctic, rising sea levels, record high temperatures, droughts, floods, extreme weather events, and the highest concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the earth’s atmosphere for three million years.

The United Nations’ sustainable development agenda calls for rapid action to decarbonise the global economy and avert the worst effects of climate change – something that the energy-hungry mining and metals industry can help to mitigate through mining with principles.

For ICMM and its members, this means:

  • A commitment to integrating climate change measures into policies and corporate strategies.

  • Supporting the Paris Agreement on climate change and its target to reduce global warming.

  • Working with industry to engage with governments, civil society and business, to develop effective climate change policies.

  • Sharing ambitious, affordable, scalable solutions.

  • Ensuring that operations and host communities are resilient to the physical impact of extreme weather events.

  • Encouraging all companies to be part of the solution to climate change, ensuring the sector plays its part in delivering the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Reducing our carbon footprint

As a major energy user (accounting for almost two per cent of global energy consumption), the mining and metals industry shares responsibility for, and can make a significant contribution to, reducing carbon emissions – through accelerating energy efficiency measures, as well as increasing the use of renewable energy and other low-emission technologies in its operations.

Companies worldwide are already making significant steps in this regard. For example, in late 2016, ICMM member Goldcorp confirmed plans for its Borden mine to become the company’s first fully-electric operation. Located in Ontario, Canada, Borden will use battery-powered vehicles underground, which is expected to eliminate all Green House Gas emissions (GHG) associated with the movement of ore and waste rock – equal to roughly 50 per cent of the total GHGs on site, or 5,000 tonnes of CO2 per year.

In Chile, ICMM members Codelco and Antofagasta Minerals have also taken major steps to improve access to clean, sustainable energy. Chile produces about a third of the world’s copper, and production requires a significant amount of energy: in fact, mining represents almost 30 per cent of total electrical energy consumption in Chile.

Codelco’s Gabriela Mistral Division (known as ‘Minera Gaby’) is located in Chile’s Atacama Desert and began copper production in 2009. In 2013, the mine inaugurated what was then the world’s largest thermo solar plant, Pampa Elvira Solar, to provide its operations with climate-friendly, renewable energy – enough to substitute 7.6m litres of diesel per year. By burning less diesel, Minera Gaby has successfully cut its CO2 emissions by nearly 15,000 tons a year. In addition, reducing diesel consumption avoids the annual mobilisation of 250 trucks that would have been required to transport the fuel.

Similarly, Antofagasta is using wind energy and solar power to meet part of its electricity demand. As much as 72 per cent of the group’s CO2 emissions relate to electricity consumption, so its priority has been to diversify supply. In 2016, 17 per cent of Antofagasta’s total energy consumption was generated by renewable sources, up from 5 per cent in 2015.

Supporting a low-carbon economy

The mining and metals industry also has a vital role in enabling a swift transition to a low-carbon economy. Minerals such as lithium and cadmium, for example, are essential for renewable energy technologies, alongside steel, copper and aluminium.

Lightweight, strong and infinitely recyclable, aluminium is seeing the fastest global growth in demand of any metal. As a result, industry experts estimate that the world will need almost 35 per cent more aluminium in 2020 than in 2014.

This demand is driven by a transport sector that needs to improve fuel efficiency and reduce energy use through lighter cars, trains, and trucks. Additionally, aluminium is key to zero-energy buildings, solar applications and packaging which both preserves food and demands less energy to transport.

ICMM member Hydro has set itself the ambitious objective of having a neutral carbon footprint by 2020, by lowering emissions, increasing recycling, and helping customers develop even more products that enable CO2 savings.

Through commitments such as Hydro’s, mining and metals companies can work with customers along the value chain to minimise mining’s impact on the environment and, ultimately, allow the sector to play a greater part in reducing the effects of climate change.