Greenhouse emissions are expected to fall by 6% this year due to a global slowdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said, but that would not be enough to stop climate change.
The forecast drop comes as transportation and industrial energy production has come almost to a halt globally, and it would be the biggest annual decline since World War II.
In the past, however, emissions levels have grown to higher levels once the crises have been over.
“Extreme weather has increased, and it will not go away because of the coronavirus. On the contrary, the pandemic exacerbates the challenge of evacuating people and keeping them safe from tropical cyclones, as we saw with Category-5 strength Harold in the South Pacific,” WMO’s General Secretary, Petteri Taalas, said in a statement released on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.
“And there is a risk that over-stretched health systems may not be able to cope with an additional burden of patients due to, for example, heatwaves,” Taalas noted.
The mining and metals sector has been facing greater scrutiny from communities at host countries, end consumers and society at large, demanding transparent, ethical supply chains, as well as a lower carbon footprint.
Particular attention is being paid to how companies are addressing issues such as climate change, water management, health and safety, and the fair treatment of workers and communities.
Investing in environmental, social and governance (ESG) is currently estimated at over US$20 trillion in assets under management, and those numbers are only expected to grow. Companies that fail to deliver value beyond compliance could face financial consequences and a blow to their reputations.
Miners step up to the plate
Most top miners are well aware of the need for change, and have already kicked off company-wide initiatives. BHP (NYSE: BHP; LSE: BHP) recently committed $400 million over five years to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from its operations and mined commodities.
The miner, the world’s largest, has promised to reduce its Scope 3 emissions (those generated by end users), an important consideration given it is the top exporter of coking coal used in steelmaking and number three in iron ore, the raw material for steel.
Rio Tinto (NYSE: RIO; LSE: RIO), the world’s second-largest mining company, has vowed to spend US$1 billion over the next five years to reduce its carbon footprint and have “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
The company also said its total Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions (indirect emissions from the generation of purchased energy consumed by a company, such as electricity) would be 15% lower by 2030 than 2018 levels.
The no emissions goal would be easier to achieve for Rio Tinto than other global miners, such as rival BHP because it does not mine coal or oil.
The company, however, has not set a target to reduce so-called “Scope 3” emissions — those produced when customers burn or process a company’s raw materials — which has triggered the ire of investors and green groups.
As of early 2020, roughly 800 financial services organizations with US$118 trillion in assets under management have committed to making climate-risk disclosures about their portfolio investments.
“Despite the business case in support of decarbonization, many mining companies continue to see it as a cost rather than an opportunity — making it difficult for proponents to unlock the capital required to move forward,” Tim Biggs, Mining & Metals Leader, Deloitte UK, told MINING.COM in February.
“A massive shift toward electrification could also change the way employees work, requiring companies to obtain buy-in not only at the management level, but at the operations level,” Biggs said.
The sector leaders are already setting an example in terms of switching to renewables.
BHP estimates deals announced last year to switch two giant copper mines in Chile to solar, wind and hydro sources in place of existing coal and gas power will cut energy costs by about 20%.
Anglo American (LSE: AAL), which has installed floating solar panels on a copper mine’s waste pond, has said that renewable energy will help deliver cheaper mining operations.
Fortescue Metals Group (ASX: FMG) recently flagged potential savings from new investments to switch mines to renewable energy as it expands a $700 million program to add transmission lines, solar arrays and battery storage in Australia’s Pilbara region.
Those and other actions helped renewables to officially overtake coal as a source of electricity generation last year, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).