Can the mining and metals industry offer much of the expertise needed to tackle climate change?
The global mining industry is a significant contributor of energy-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
New research, presented by the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) at the COP17 conference in Durban last month, revealed it produced 1 gigatonne of CO2 equivalent per year, approximately 2 per cent of global energy-related GHG emissions and around the same as a medium-sized developed country such as Canada.
No question, the mining and metals industry has a responsibility to play its part in addressing climate change - now and in the years to come. However, we believe our industry can offer much of the expertise needed to tackle climate change, as well as providing many of the elements which are essential to the development of green technologies.
ICMM brings together 21 international mining and metals companies, which employ more than a third of the 2.5 million people working in the sector worldwide, as well as 31 national and regional mining associations and global commodity associations. All member companies are required to sign up to a set of performance standards based on ten sustainable development principles. ICMM's position at the heart of the industry allows us to steer debate and contribute to decision-making.
To more effectively address climate change issues our organisation has set up a dedicated climate change program covering three program focus areas: national climate policies and competiveness; land use and adaptation to the impacts of climate change; and measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) of net GHG activities.
Beyond that all member companies have made firm commitments: to develop GHG emission reduction strategies and implement economic emissions reductions opportunities; to ensure efficient use of natural resources; to support research and development of low GHG emission technologies; to measure progress and report results on the above commitments.
So what contribution can the industry make to the reduction of GHG emissions? Where and how is it possible to be more carbon-efficient?
First, at least half of our emissions originate from secondary sources, particularly from the power and transportation sectors. As these represent significant net costs on mining and metal operations, companies are increasingly motivated to explore ways in which energy efficiency and renewables can work to defray costs and decrease GHG emissions.
Second, minerals and metals are, in fact, required for many of today's low carbon technologies. Metals, like copper, aluminium and platinum, and non-metallurgical coal are vital for developing a renewable energy infrastructure. Photovoltaic solar panels, catalytic converters and wind turbines are just a few examples of alternative energy technologies which rely on the mining and metals industry for its product development and manufacturing.
Third, the mining and metals sector has a wealth of expert insight and guidance to offer and ICMM's climate change program provides a unique platform from which the industry can contribute to the policy design process. While an all-encompassing global policy regime and a single carbon price may still be a way off, we believe that measures such as a more standardised and transparent MRV system and effective steps on national carbon pricing are important steps towards that goal.
Undoubtedly, there is a lot of work ahead of us. Addressing climate change needs to be one of the most important parts of every mining and metals company's business strategy. It simply cannot be ignored.
But our efforts cannot stop there. Demand for commodities is predicted to increase over the coming decades. As the world moves towards a low-carbon economy it is clear that mining and metals industry is - and has to be - part of the solution.
John Drexhage is Director of Climate Change at the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM).