Mining companies have become some of the biggest companies to make sweeping, rapid changes to their business models, operations, and social responsibility charters in the last five years. With net-zero emissions goals being set around the world for the developed world from anywhere from 2030 to 2050, companies will need to keep up.
The mining industry’s renewed commitment to ESG (environmental, social, governance) principles has meant that a new operational standard is in place. For many, that means reducing emissions to zero.
Canadian gold mining company IAMGOLD (TSX:IMG) is taking the pledge to achieve net negative greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) emissions by 2050 at the latest. This is a challenging task, but one that can be accomplished with the right amount of investment and commitment.
Gordon Stothart, President, and CEO of IAMGOLD (TSX:IMG) said on Monday, “In our view, reversing the effects of climate change does not mean stabilising emissions; it demands that we reduce the total volume of greenhouse gases going into the atmosphere and the world’s oceans year over year. We know that we are losing habitat at an unsustainable pace.”
The company’s strategy will be two-pronged, with the first target focused on GHG reduction from scope 1 and scope 2 emissions. This largely focused on heavy and light vehicle fleets and power generation and supply. This is the easiest to accomplish because the technology exists, and investment will only be needed for implementations.
The second prong of the strategy includes the second target of GHG removals. This is done by supporting the effects of climate change by supporting net positive biodiversity and protecting carbon sinks. To do this, IAMGOLD (TSX:IMG) will use nature-based solutions, creating habitat for flora and fauna at a faster rate than it disturbs. This net-zero approach will ultimately cancel out any of the effects of disturbance in local habitats from mining operations.
Stothart continued, “Absolute reductions form a critically important part of IAMGOLD’s strategy in actively combating climate change, with investments in nature-based carbon offset projects supporting greenhouse gas removals.”
Mining companies are held to a much higher standard these days, and reporting is necessary at every step of the process. In 2022, an external verification will be completed on its emissions reporting, the company will develop and announce medium-range time targets for reductions and removals for targets 1 and 2, and publish a solid roadmap and timelines for how the company will achieve its ultimate goal by 2050 of net negative emissions.
How the Industry is Adapting
The mining industry is adopting ambitious and ambitious sustainability targets to promote safer and more sustainable mining activities that will have a positive impact on society. It is cutting CO2 emissions as fast as possible for projects, with the aim of increasing their overall value to society.
Most companies have targets set for 2030, and 2050, that create a step-by-step process for achieving net-zero or net negative emissions by those dates. Many companies are reducing emissions and compensating for CO2 emissions that can’t be avoided to create a sustainable world for future generations. The best way to help the mining industry meet its emissions targets is to improve its operational efficiency in the short term and invest in renewable energy sources in long term.
The need for change is increasingly permeating the mining sector and technological advances offer miners opportunities to reduce their direct and indirect emissions. Looking to the future, feasibility studies of new and existing mine extensions will be assessed according to the impact on emissions and the way in which mines can achieve sustainability.
Electrification of the plant and other operations is a crucial way to reach zero in mining, processing, and transport. Many of the hardest-to-electrify heavy industries and mining processes have emissions that are difficult to eliminate and are part of the energy mix over which miners have no direct control. Consider the steel industry which over the next 20 years must eliminate 17 billion tonnes of direct and indirect CO2 emissions. This is a challenge, but one that the industry is taking on, head-on.
Removing 6.1 billion litres of diesel from copper mines per year – equivalent to 105,000 barrels per day – would reduce a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions produced. The copper mining industry is pushing hard for net-zero emissions, as a metal that can be used for electric energy storage and transportation. This green technology metal is critical to the future of net-zero emissions, and so mining companies are committing to making the production process green as well.
Most diversified miners have set bold net-zero targets in oil and gas. The major benefit of all of these goals is that miners can provide the supply growth and demand for the energy transition they need to decarbonize their own sector. Mining is the key to the refinement of metals that can be used in wind, solar, electric vehicles, storage, and transmission, and will be essential if the world is to achieve the Paris target of net emissions by 2050.
For them, the route to eliminating their own operational greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 is feasible if not attractive. The world’s largest mining companies by market capitalisation, BHP Group (ASX:BHP), and Rio Tinto (ASX:RIO), have espoused ambitions for net-zero emissions, as has been noted in previous analyses of mining companies as serious and feasible targets.
As a result, many mining companies have set ambitious carbon emissions targets that are consistent with the Paris climate agreement from 2015 and strive to attain net emissions zero.
Net CO2 emissions occur when greenhouse gas emissions released by an organization are offset by an equivalent amount of carbon capture from the atmosphere. For many mining companies, this means determining a baseline level of GHG emissions and then looking for ways to reduce these emissions, commonly called decarbonization.
Although there are practical limits to how much GHG emissions can be reduced in mining, several innovative approaches that will be explored in the future are promising. New technologies, better use of data and smart automation are helping mining companies to become more energy efficient around the world.
Vale, one of the world’s largest mining companies, has been outlining its greenhouse gas reduction commitments for some time. Having the industry giants committing to this goal is a signal to the rest of the industry, no matter what size company, that it is a real and possible target.
The World Bank estimates that the transition to a net-zero emissions economy will require demand growth of up to 500%. On an individual raw material basis, demand for cobalt is estimated to increase by 20% by 2040. Copper, nickel, and other metals necessary for electric technologies for infrastructure and in particular EVs will share in that demand growth as well. If demand grows by many multiples as predicted, then this trend is one that will grow to be unstoppable in the near term, and perpetually inevitable in the long term.