Mining: climate action beyond reducing emissions

Anna Triponel

December 6, 2021
Our key takeaway: As we mark another Human Rights Day, companies cannot afford to ignore the adverse impacts of climate change on people. For mining companies, it’s even more vital to address not only GHG emissions but also the other ways in which climate change can cause or aggravate mining-related human rights harms.

The Responsible Mining Foundation (RMF) published a briefing with insights from recent research on mining company disclosures of their climate impacts:

  • Reducing emissions is only one piece of a just transition: Given the significant contribution of the extractives sector to GHG emissions, RMF commends mining companies and financiers for putting “emissions reduction at the heart of their materiality analysis and ‘climate-smart’ action plans, [and] rolling out plans to switch to renewable energy sources.” However, by focusing exclusively on this metric, mining companies are not addressing other key risks of (and contributors to) climate change, like impacts on local communities and ecosystems.
  • Most large mining companies do not disclose climate-induced impacts on communities, workers or the environment: RMF’s recent research assessing 40 major mining companies’ public disclosures finds that “that the majority of assessed large-scale mining companies have not identified and disclosed how climate change may exacerbate their impacts on communities, workers or the environment. These weak performances contrast with the much stronger results on companies tracking and reducing their GHG emissions.” The report suggests that these gaps in reporting may be spurred by companies’ concerns about financially and reputationally material risks, rather than salient risks to people.
  • Companies are failing to address and report on climate-induced mining-related risks to water, biodiversity, forests and health: These issues are closely linked to mining operations, have significant adverse impacts on people, and can even contribute to further climate change. In the case of water, RMF’s research “shows that while companies score an on average 28% on tracking and working to reduce their water consumption, they score an average of only 8% on tracking and taking measures to reduce their adverse impacts on water quality downstream of their operations”—despite the fact that mining often takes place in already water-stressed regions where local communities depend heavily on the availability of clean water as a matter of survival and livelihoods. In addition, RMF indicates that “unusually heavy rainfall [caused by climate change] is a frequent factor” in tailings dam failures, yet, “only a handful of companies show evidence of having conducted third-party audits or reviews on the effectiveness of the measures they have taken to address potential risks related to its tailings facilities.” RMF’s analysis also “reveals generally weak results on biodiversity and land-use management regardless of climate change considerations. Generally, companies’ disclosures on biodiversity management are limited to information on their land rehabilitation measures.” Further, there is a lack of disclosure around post-closure reclamation and forest restoration, which “can generate long-lasting impacts for the local environment and for communities that depend on natural resources.” Finally, the dual impacts of climate change and mining operations can negatively impact community health. However, “less than half of the assessed companies can demonstrate they are assessing their impacts on community health and developing plans to address these impacts”; those companies that report on health impacts do not report on a regular basis or report on the status of mitigation plans.

For more, see Responsible Mining Foundation, Research Insight: Beyond Emissions Reductions: Climate Change and Mining (December 2021)

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