Australia should take stock on climate ‘Global Stocktake’

The mining industry stands at a pivotal juncture, tasked with fueling the energy transition while also navigating the reduction of emissions. 

It’s been 8 years since the world came together to sign the Paris Agreement, designed to hold the international community accountable in limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees celsius.

As COP28 draws to a close in Dubai it must be asked, what impact will this have on the Australian economy and the critical industries involved in the transition? 

The two-week Dubai conference, which ends today (12 December 2023), held the first of the five-yearly Global Stocktakes (GST) planned under the Paris Agreement. The verdict, however, revealed a glaring shortfall in implementing the agreement’s objectives across various fronts, highlighting a substantial gap between pledges and tangible actions. 

Simon Stiell, Executive Secretary of the UN framework convention on climate change spoke at a press conference mid week. He spoke of the need for purpose over politicking.

“All governments must give their negotiators clear marching orders. We need highest ambition, not point scoring or lowest common denominator politics.

“All governments must give their negotiators clear marching orders. We need highest ambition, not point scoring or lowest common denominator politics

We have a starting text on the table … but it’s a grab bag of wishlists and heavy on posturing. The key now is to sort the wheat from the chaff.”

So how has the mining industry transformed since Paris 2015?

In the realm of transport electrification and renewable power, the hunger for battery metals has surged. The world has witnessed a remarkable increase in the manufacturing of electric vehicles since the Paris Agreement in 2015, now constituting a quarter of new car sales — a substantial increase from less than 1% eight years ago.

The evolution of lithium-ion batteries from concept to reality and the global embrace of 165 GW of solar and wind capacity annually paint the picture of renewable power’s growing footprint.

From uncertain decarbonisation strategies in 2015, the majority of miners now commit to net-zero operational emissions by 2050.

However, the cost of reaching net-zero comes at a price. Pan Asia’s (ASX:PAM) MD Paul Lock explains how additional costs like offsetting scope 3 emissions from its FIFO operations have forced it to think about where they are mining in the future.

Speaking to Mining.com.au Lock says location is everything. 

“We focus on projects which are located well, which can access or build emissions free energy. Pan Asia also wants projects which are located near population centres, one of the future pinch points will be FIFO operations, it’s very hard to offset scope 3 emissions like this unless you localise your workforce.”

Similarly gold explorer Hamelin Gold (ASX:HMG), which adopted a completely solar-powered camp earlier this year, highlights the same cost benefit dilemma. Hamelin MD Peter Berwick shares his thoughts: 

“Smart changes like the one we have made will be taken up readily as there is a clear cost and environmental benefit. In other scenarios where the environmental benefit is marginal and the cost is excessive the take up will be much lower or closer to zero.”

Interestingly, both executives are thinking about climate through physical assets and geographical positioning,  which are incredibly high-cost options. Where they may not seem to turn their minds are to climate tech options, which are often quicker to set up and typically have a lower integration cost.

While the sector has seen progress, the pressing question remains: Is it enough?

Healthy diet of Climate Salad 

Among a number of new initiatives at the 11-day event in Dubai, the establishment of a climate coalition also made an inaugural appearance. Designed to enhance innovation, fortify ecosystems, and create an inclusive environment for stakeholders in the climate tech innovation value chain.

Australia is actively fostering a collaborative and knowledgeable climate tech network, with initiatives like Climate Salad paving the way. Established in 2021, Climate Salad boasts over 400 members, including founders, climate tech entrepreneurs, scientists, researchers, investors, corporates, and government entities across the country.

Mick Liubinskas, co-founder of Climate Salad, discussed the platform’s growth and the expanding interest in the climate tech sector with Mining.com.au. Following its recent event in Sydney, attendance soared to 750 participants this year, marking a 400% surge compared to the previous year.

“No longer is there the ‘potential’ it [climate tech] is here and it is real. It’s strong. It’s got momentum. It’s providing jobs and it’s raising capital globally. Climate tech is globally respected and it touches everything from farming to mining to retail and, and transport, it touches everything.” 

Liubinskas sits in a unique position, as liaison between the climate tech community and the corporate world he often facilitates partnerships and agreements between the two. He comments on the relationship between the mining and climate tech industry.

“I think because of obviously some of the tension between mining companies and, and climate, we’re only really just starting the process…and I think there are a number of views which have changed, including that the whole world is moving towards a decarbonized renewable energy, climate positive space, sooner rather than later.” 

Balancing act

So if we are only starting to see the introduction of climate tech in mining, what does it look like and why has it taken so long for these companies to collaborate?

Biocare, a climate tech company working in biochar production and Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR), blends nature with engineering to achieve permanent carbon storage and combat climate change. Biocare collaborates with its clients to evaluate and implement projects that manage biomass waste, generate CDR credits compliant with registry standards, and transform waste into an additional revenue stream.

Abraham Robertson, Commercial & Trading Director at Biocare shares the initial interest in the company’s outreach to the mining industry.

“The prospect of utilising CDR credits generated from our projects has attracted attention, especially from a major mining company looking to neutralise its residual emissions. This is a testament to the growing awareness and commitment in the mining industry to reduce carbon footprints. 

Additionally, there’s palpable excitement about the potential application of biochar in the rehabilitation of mining sites. This enthusiasm underscores a significant shift towards more sustainable and environmentally responsible practices in the sector.” 

As COP28 closes Robertson anticipates the outcome of the conference will shine a light on the importance of CDR as essential in every net-zero pathway. He shares his thoughts on the importance of mining and the balancing act between producing critical minerals and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

“We foresee a rise in innovative climate tech solutions, including the utilisation of CDR. These advancements will span from energy-efficient processes and carbon capture technologies like biochar to regulatory reforms advocating greener mining practices. 

This period will be defined by the convergence of necessity and innovation, steering the mining sector towards net-zero

This period will be defined by the convergence of necessity and innovation, steering the mining sector towards net-zero. Our goal transcends merely catering to the demands of an electric future; we aim to redefine the mining sector’s environmental impact, ensuring alignment with global sustainability aspirations.”

As per the International Energy Agency (IEA), achieving emissions reduction goals by 2040 will necessitate a sixfold increase in the current supply of essential minerals. The IEA forecasts a minimum 60% surge in the demand for nickel and cobalt, and nearly a twofold increase in the demand for lithium over the next two decades.

In light of these projections, bridging the gap between mineral supply and escalating demand becomes imperative for sustainable growth in both the mining and climate tech sectors.

No stranger to the startup community, Priyanka Karunanithi, Climate Tech Advisor and Investor, shared her thoughts on the opportunity between the two industries:

“Australia’s critical minerals play a vital role in the global renewable energy transition and there is a huge opportunity for the mining industry to partner with climate tech startups pioneering new approaches to mining, extraction, refining and transportation of these minerals to not only reduce the environmental impact of existing processes but also reduce costs.” 

But what will actually move the dial? Often seismic change only happens when there is a strong push or powerful pull (or a combination of both). Perhaps what we need is more aggressive government recourse to push industries to change their practices. Or perhaps it will be a change in public sentiment, coupled with a robust climate tech industry that is mature enough to engage with institutional mining companies that pull miners across the line. 

“Australia’s critical minerals play a vital role in the global renewable energy transition and there is a huge opportunity for the mining industry to partner with climate tech startups pioneering new approaches…”

As the demand for critical minerals increases, the mining industry will need to adopt new technologies to assist in the reduction of emissions. 

While currently focusing on physical assets and geographical positioning is a good start, will this be enough to satisfy the next Global Stocktake? Will we see an increase in climate tech partnerships? 

Or will we wait another five years to find out yet again that there is a substantial gap between our commitments and tangible actions. 

Write to Tristan Gray at Mining.com.au

Images: COP28 UAE
Written By Tristan Gray
Originally from Canada, Tris trained as a journalist but early in her career moved into marketing and advertising. Tris now spends her days managing the mining.com.au systems and processes while overseeing all company operations.