Emissions from mining
Updated: May 26, 2022
We are back to our usual programming of covering various sectors and digging around (pun intended) sustainability goals of companies. Today’s topic - mining! (not bitcoin mining; that’s a topic for some other time)
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Emissions from mining
While mining is no stranger to harsh climates; much of the industry operates in inhospitable conditions, mining as an activity itself is a big contributor to greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).
How do mining activities affect the climate?
Mining is currently responsible for 4-7% of GHG emissions globally. Scope 1 and Scope 2 CO2 emissions from the sector (those incurred through mining operations and power consumption respectively) amount to 1% whereas fugitive-methane emissions from coal mining are estimated at 3-6% (For a quick primer on Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions, check out our 200 word blog here). If we include Scope 3 emissions from combustion of just coal - it would contribute to 28% of global emissions.
What are fugitive emissions?
Fugitive emissions are defined as unintentional and undesirable emissions from equipment or facilities. Coal, when mined, can release vast amounts of trapped methane into the atmosphere. Methane gas can form in coal mines at the same time coal was formed when natural organic material slowly changes into coal after being buried and covered for a long period of time. Surface mines emit less methane than underground mines, but surface mines produce larger volumes of coal, some surface mines can also emit methane in large quantities. In addition, ventilation and air degasification systems in underground mines also contribute to fugitive-methane emissions. In 2019, coal mining and other abandoned mines contributed 8% to overall methane emissions. (Learn more about why methane is more harmful than CO2 in our previous blog post here.)
Mining companies come together
On Oct 5 earlier this year, the world’s top mining companies committed to a goal of net-zero direct and indirect emissions by 2050 or sooner, the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) said in a statement. The statement was signed by 28 executives from the world's largest miners. The 28 signatories have operations in 50 countries and represent over one-third of the global mining and metals industry.
What did they actually commit to?
All signatories committed to delivering net zero Scope 1 and 2 emissions from their operations and energy use by 2050 at the latest. However, the commitment needs to translate into actionable goals and the companies are set to incorporate this joint ambition into their internal climate targets by 2023. In addition, ICMM members are also committed to annually reporting the progress of their decarbonization efforts.
The statement also outlines plans to set targets for Scope 3 value chain emissions “if not by the end of 2023, as soon as possible”. Scope 3 emissions targets will make mining companies accountable for their customers emissions (for example, emissions in a steel factory etc.).
Some companies such as Anglo American, Rio Tinto and BHP have already set ambitious decarbonization targets, leading the industry, by including Scope 3 emission reduction targets in their climate commitments.
With the exception of coal mining - which will continue unless we better finance emerging economies or come up with better scalable power solutions - mining has a “decarbonization challenge” because the sector has to reduce emissions while also supporting production of metals such as nickel and copper (used in batteries) that are vital to a low-emission economy.
Caterpillar's climate goals
On June 23 Caterpillar and NMG (Canadian mining company) announced a collaboration to build a zero-emission mine. Caterpillar will be the exclusive equipment, technology and services provider - developing zero-emission machines for the mining project in Quebec, Canada. The mine (including recharging the newly developed electric mining vehicles) will be powered by hydro-electricity.
About Caterpillar Inc.
Caterpillar Inc. is the world’s leading manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, diesel and natural gas engines and industrial gas turbines. The group had revenues of $41.7 billion in 2020.
Caterpillar’s climate goals
While Caterpillar first established sustainability goals in 2006, setting targets to be achieved by 2020 (and they did! Good job Caterpillar!), we look at their current goals through 2030:
Reduce absolute GHG Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions by 30% from 2018 to 2030
Reduce landfill intensity by 50% from 2018 to 2030
Commit to launching all new products that will be more sustainable than previous generations
While this may not seem much, one has to understand the challenges faced by mining companies. Vehicles used in mines are pretty big and are designed to carry large loads on steep inclines. In addition, mines are usually round the clock operations and all these factors combined can transition to electric vehicles quite challenging. We looked at two main competitors of Caterpillar; Komatsu and Liebherr group - both have not yet published any sustainability goals.
Recommendations from the team
Business Insider - Mining gold from electronics (9 min video)
Bloomberg - Inside the Resolution Copper Mine (5 min video)