World Bank bullish on climate-smart mining

THE World Bank is optimistic mining companies in Australia and internationally will reach ambitious climate change commitments to limit global warming to 2C or less compared to pre-industrial levels.

World Bank bullish on climate-smart mining


On the final day of the Minerals Council of Australia's Minerals Week Conference, the World Bank presented a keynote speech all the way from Washington DC - think of the carbon savings from doing this virtually - to tell Australian mining executives about climate-smart mining opportunities.

"These are exciting times for the mining industry," World Bank senior mining specialist Daniele La Porta said.

"I've been working in the mining sector for the last 20-years, but I've never been as excited as I am now." 

La Porta said mining was the only solution to climate change, however, a business-as-usual operational approach was "no longer an option".

It is no secret that demand for base metals will increase substantially over the next decade as countries race to prevent global warming above 2C.

The World Bank first published its own research into demand forecasts as renewables took off in 2018.

Based on 2018 production levels it sees niche minerals soaring by 2050. For instance, demand for aluminum alone is expected to jump 87% due to solar technology.

Meanwhile, nickel is expected to enjoy an increase in demand of 67% over the next decade alone.

However, there were two key themes in La Porta's keynote to miners in Australia.

"Every time I have presented these figures to an audience, I get asked a certain question:  do we actually need to mine more, or can we just recycle commodities," she said.

The simple truth is, while recycling is important in the circulation of commodities, a drastic production increase will be needed. More mines and more mined product.

"What we found was if we take aluminum and copper, where we have technology and established, at 100% recovery from end of life, aluminum recycling rates would increase 65% and copper would increase 59% from 29% currently recycled," La Porta said.

"However, recycled commodities will not meet battery demand and future technology demand. Recycling is important, but it will not be enough."

La Porta also noted that research claiming that recycled commodities would be enough to meet demand, versus new produced materials, was only looking at old levels of renewable and battery infrastructure.

To meet future demand for electric vehicles, batteries, solar and wind farms, additional production will need to be brought online in the short term.

Secondly, La Porta said some questioned whether industry was just "shifting the problem" of environmental management.

"If we move from fossil fuels, then what impact will mining have on international climate goals?" she asked.

"We conducted a deep diver into understanding a 2C scenario and comparing the impact of renewable technologies to oil, gas, and coal."

It is the first cradle-to-gate study of its kind.

"It was a comparison of apples and oranges, but we're just scratching the surface," La Porta said.

According to the World Bank, under a 2C scenario, renewable energy generation and battery innovations will account for just 6% of emissions compared to fossil fuels.

"This is a key aspect to keep in mind," La Porta said.

"From a climate perspective mining is more important than continuing to use fossil fuels."

However, mining itself has huge environmental challenges ahead as it looks to ramp up production to meet battery and renewables demand.

"Waste will be one of the biggest issues industry face," La Porta said.

"Copper in particular, with lower grade ores presents a challenge. It's how we deal with these challenges."

La Porta said miners would need to become "climate-smart," and quickly too.

"While it's been a discussion happening for a while, and some companies are doing great while others aren't, it is more important than ever," she said.

Key to this is having regulatory and political frameworks in place, without leaving critical minerals  rich developing countries behind.

"It is up to countries, not just miners, to make mining as green as possible. This requires good governance, policy making, and strategy," La Porta said.

The World Bank said it was working to achieve this by developing its own framework.

That framework, while still in conception, will include a series of "building blocks" to clean up supply chains and create sustainable mining in critical minerals rich countries lacking policy and having political instability.

"A lot of innovation into low carbon technologies in the mining sector is underway, but the more the better," La Porta said.

"For us as the World Bank, it's about ensuring the regulatory aspects are there and industry is able to innovate internationally."

She said the World Bank would look to incentivise countries going forward.

The framework also includes setting up pilot projects and encouraging research that could be shared throughout industry.

The challenge facing the mining sector is that it will need to learn to share intellectual property.

"The World Bank hopes to develop a methodology and expand pilot projects, which would make the technology available industry wide, internationally," La Porta said.

This would benefit both developing nations with rich critical mineral deposits, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo which holds about 70% of the world's cobalt.

However, according to La Porta, it will also benefit Australian miners.

She noted while countries such as the DRC had a majority share of resources such as cobalt, there was not enough geological data to properly understand where future deposits and mining opportunities could be located.

"Some countries have such a limited knowledge of their critical minerals geological data," she said.

"Many are still working out their critical mineral endowment."

The World Bank is charged with helping countries, especially in the developing world, to find these deposits while ensuring they extracted and potentially processed them in a "smart-mining way".

She noted that this could not be left with the World Bank alone, and that a whole of supply chain approach was needed.

Australian mining companies, oil and gas and other industries need to come to together.

In return, the World Bank is helping create a net-zero transmission roadmap for copper and nickel deposits, of which Australia has many.

La Porta said Australian miners needed to find a full decarbonisation pathway across the entire value chain of copper and nickel.

"A lot of Australian companies have made commitments, but it is a long road ahead," she said.

"Our roadmap will hopefully show some solutions to industry and make recommendations that will impact policy and regulation."







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