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Top miners doubt customers can match their zero-emissions target

As one of the biggest polluters, the mining industry has a key role to play in fighting climate change.
Image: Bloomberg

The world’s top miners are confident they can eliminate emissions from their own operations by 2050, but aren’t yet sure their customers can do the same.

The International Council on Mining and Metals’ 28 members, which include producers like BHP Group and Glencore Plc, on Tuesday pledged to cut so-called Scope 1 and 2 emissions from their own operations and the electricity they use to net-zero by 2050.

But they’re not committing to net-zero targets for Scope 3 — the far greater pollution created when customers burn or process their raw materials — until they’re confident the goal is feasible.

As one of the biggest polluters, the mining industry has a key role to play in fighting climate change. But while producers are making progress in cutting greenhouse gases at mine sites, their emissions are dwarfed by those created when products like coal and iron ore are used to make commodities such as aluminum and steel. The message from the ICMM is that their customers have much work to do if the entire sector is to become carbon neutral.

“We are still some way away from technologies that would allow for zero-carbon steel and aluminum production at scale,” ICMM Chief Executive Officer Rohitesh Dhawan said in an interview. “The uncertainty about how our customers will be using our products, and the technologies they’ll be able to access, means that at this stage we don’t think we can set Scope 3 targets that will be credible.”

To be sure, the ICMM hopes that it’ll be able to announce Scope 3 goals by the end of 2023 at the latest. Some of the council’s members, such as Glencore, already have such targets, and some producers are working on green smelting technology that could aid the process.

Still, the ICMM’s decision not to commit to a target now risks inviting criticism from activists and lawmakers who say change isn’t coming fast enough.

“We share the growing skepticism about long-term goals without clear roadmaps, so we’re really committed to showing how we’re going to get there,” Dhawan said. “Instead of being slow and cumbersome, I think this is quite fast and ambitious.”

© 2021 Bloomberg

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