Mining has emerged as an important industry in the fight against climate change, as the creation of green energy sources – such as batteries for electric vehicles, solar panels, wind turbines and more – are dependent on the materials that are recovered from mines around the world.

In a January 2020 report, consulting firm McKinsey calculated that the mining sector is responsible for between four to seven per cent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions globally, contributing to the issue it is trying to solve. As such, many mining companies are stepping up to lower their emissions on a path towards carbon neutrality. In a panel discussion sponsored by Stantec and CIM Magazine titled “Towards NetZero,” representatives from three mining companies at different stages in the mine development and operation cycle explained how they are pursuing the important goal of net zero carbon emissions.

For Torex Gold Resources and its vice-president, corporate affairs and social responsibility, Angie Robson, the move towards net zero is a recent one. Torex, an intermediate gold producer primarily focused on its Morelos gold property in Mexico, has only been tracking its Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions since 2019, but Robson says that the company is committed to developing a climate change strategy and making it a priority for the executive leadership.

“Just an example, a small change we made this year is we formally added climate change oversight to our Torex Safety and Corporate Social Responsibility Committee Mandate, just to ensure we’re consistently reporting our progress to the board of directors and that they’ve got good oversight over what we’re doing and where we’re headed,” Robson said. “With the appropriate governance in place, we’ll then start to get to the heart of our strategy by developing a climate change position statement… that will guide our forward plan.”

Torex expects to put out that statement sometime this year, and has also announced that it will be building an 8.5 megawatt solar plant, which is expected to save $1 million per year in energy costs.

Vale, one of the biggest mining companies on the planet, has had its GHG reduction commitments outlined for some time. The company says it will reduce its Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions 33 per cent by 2030, reduce Scope 3 emissions 15 per cent by 2035 and reach carbon neutrality by 2050.

“This is how we’re delivering on what we call our ‘new pact with society,’” says Vale Canada sustainability and regulatory affairs specialist, North Atlantic operations, Glen Watson, “which [also] includes commitments to renewable electricity, to forest protection, water usage reduction and social economic contribution. It really essentially means becoming high performing in environment, social and governance, ESG.”

According to Watson, Vale has identified over 250 GHG reduction opportunity projects at its North Atlantic operations alone. “We need to optimize our energy usage. We’re looking at things like waste recovery, use of biofuels and biomass to power our operations. Nothing at this stage in the game can really be off the table,” he said. “It’s more than just technology, it’s also about changing behaviour from the shop floor to the top floor, so to speak. This is as much a challenge as developing the next big new technology that will help us reduce [GHG] emissions. You need people to believe that their daily actions and decisions make a difference.”

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For junior miners that are still in the planning stages of mine development, the opportunity is there to design the mine site in a way that takes climate change mitigation into account and uses it to the company’s advantage. Twin Metals, which is working towards starting construction on a copper-nickel-cobalt-platinum mine in northeast Minnesota, adopted a GHG mitigation philosophy and applied it to its mine plan.

“As a project that is in the design and development phase, we’ve had the opportunity to track emerging technologies and expectations for the mining industry, and have incorporated many of those into our project design,” Twin Metals vice-president, engineering, Glenn Barr said. “As a simple example, we made our way from a conventional slurry tailings impoundment to a filter tailings dry stack facility. The application of this technology not only results in a much more sustainable means for storing tailings, but also a project footprint decrease of almost 70 per cent, [by eliminating] the need to transport slurry tailings a significant distance to a suitable impoundment area, and also the elimination of ponds and large water management features.”

Whatever stage of the mine life cycle a company is on, it is important for it to do what it needs to do to achieve net zero emissions.

“I think we have to believe it’s realistic. We’re seeing the technology that’s coming to enable [net zero] to happen, technology that we would have never thought possible 20 or even 10 years ago,” Robson said. “I do believe it’s possible. And in my view, as an industry we have to work together to move forward together. Not any one of us is going to have the magic bullet. It’s going to require forums like this, it’s going to require sharing, it’s going to require learning. It’s a daunting goal and it’s coming quickly, but I do believe it’s possible and I do believe that as an industry we’ll get there.”