Ukwazi Views

Mine closure and climate change (2)

A close shave…or too close to call?

The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment Report entitled, Climate Change 2021, states that the earth’s surface and ocean temperatures are the highest they’ve been since 1850, with the most radical increases occurring after the year 2000. The report goes on further to say that the only solution is drastically reducing CO2 and achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, and is unequivocal about the fact that human influence has led to this dire, and urgent, situation currently confronting the planet and humanity.

South Africa is the world’s 12th largest emitter of greenhouse gases, largely due to our fleet of coal fired powered stations and as such, policy documents and stakeholder consultations have been held regarding a just transition from coal. Further to this, the Cabinet approved South Africa’s national determined contribution to reduce greenhouse gasses and keep emissions to a range of 350-420 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2e) by 2030, as as part of the country’s submission at the recently held COP26 conference. South Africa has also recently introduced the National Climate Change Bill to Parliament.

There are a number of ways in which climate change can be regarded as a threat and as an opportunity, opening varying avenues for the mining industry to respond.

Industry impacts and protecting value

  • Increased rainfall and flooding as well as other adverse weather events can interrupt production, damage assets, disrupt transport and supply chains, result in excess soil erosion (affecting slope stability) and compromise employee safety.
  • On the other end of the spectrum, drought will impact water availability and costs for activities such as refining and processing, amongst others.
  • A rise in temperatures also means increased pressure on energy sources and capacity to run operations and cool underground mines and surface facilities, also leading to increasing energy costs and possible energy rationing or load shedding.

Industry actions and creating value

  • Investment in renewable energy technologies such as solar or wind and alternative fuels such as hydrogen, as both solutions and additional revenue streams.
  • Technical innovations such as joint water reclamation projects with other industry players, and the creation of regional water schemes between mining operations.
  • Ensuring that mine closure planning becomes an intrinsic element of the entire project life cycle from study, design, build, operation, closure, and post-closure phases.

Ultimately, mines need to find a sustainability partner that can execute on both strategy and compliance, underpinned by value engineering, clear objectives, measurable outcomes and solutionist thinking.

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