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Mining companies are underprepared for climate change

Recent research suggests only a minority of mining companies are preparing for the biophysical impacts of climate change. Those that are preparing are going it alone: there is little collaboration on planning…

Only 39% of mining companies believe the climate is changing; 13% have made plans to adapt. CSIRO

Recent research suggests only a minority of mining companies are preparing for the biophysical impacts of climate change. Those that are preparing are going it alone: there is little collaboration on planning between miners and local government.

The preparedness of Australia’s resource communities for climate change will depend on adaptation planning across multiple sectors. For example, a range of climate change effects - drought, and conflict over water use, heatwaves and intense rainfall - will adversely affect mining operations as well as other industry sectors, communities and the surrounding environment.

Climate change in Australia is projected to lead to more frequent and severe droughts, floods and heat waves; increased cyclone intensity; and sea-level rise and ocean acidification, albeit with significant regional variations over different time frames.

Droughts cause competition between water users in rural areas – notably miners, farmers and rural townships. Intense rainfall events, such as those experienced in the Bowen Basin coal mining region of Queensland, led to extensive flooding of mine pits, damage to transportation routes, on-going disruption to production and export of coal, reduced state royalties, and community outrage over the effects on downstream water quality caused when pit water was released into streams.

When climate change affects mines it will also affect mining communities. CSIRO

Heat waves can reduce the liveability of mining communities and pose occupational health and safety risks for mine operational staff. Sea-level rise and ocean chemistry changes have implications for the integrity of port infrastructure and offshore platforms, while greater storm surge heights may affect mining-related infrastructure in low-lying coastal areas.

These various biophysical climate change impacts will not be simple, one-way relationships. They may include cascading effects between sectors and issues at multiple levels, such as the increased energy needs for emptying flooded pits or cleaning contaminated water.

CSIRO has been working with two groups that are central to these issues, mining companies and local government authorities with a focus on what they are doing to prepare for climate change.

The relationship between mining companies and local governments is increasingly important for climate change planning. Climate change is likely to affect not just mine operations and the landscapes in which they are located, but also the well-being of mining communities. But collaboration between mining companies and local government appears to be missing; it could well be central if mutually beneficial adaptation strategies are to be developed in the future, and actions designed to reduce climatic impacts do not have adverse impacts elsewhere.

We have conducted national surveys (just published), interviews with regional stakeholders, and workshops in three of Australia’s major mining regions over the last three years. Ongoing work includes case-studies of particular mining operations, regions and value chains to identify approaches to climate adaptation assessment most suitable for the resources sector.

Heavy rain and more intense storms could threaten mining infrastructure. CSIRO

Overall, this work shows that while there are many potential impacts from climate change for mining operations and their associated communities, there appears to be relatively little activity assessing and reducing these risks. We found only 13% of mining companies have undertaken a climate vulnerability study or have any adaptation policies, plans or practices in place. The main reasons companies hadn’t done this work were uncertainty around climate change impacts and political and regulatory settings. Only 39% of mining companies were convinced that the climate is changing (compared to 65% of local government respondents).

Local government concerns about and preparation for climate change were much higher although, even then, adaptation planning is occurring in less than half the councils surveyed. Councils said the main reasons they hadn’t undertaken adaptation planning were financial cost and lack of funding, lack of skilled personnel and inadequate information available for them to respond. They were less concerned than mining companies about uncertainty of impacts and political settings.

The level of collaborative planning between the two groups was poor. None of the local government respondents who reported adaptation planning said they had involved a mining company in this planning. Only two of the mining companies that undertook adaptation planning reported partnering with local government. A follow-up survey is currently underway to collect a larger sample of companies and local government authorities for this work.

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  1. Comment removed by moderator.

    1. In reply to Neil Gibson

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    2. In reply to Gerard Dean

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    3. In reply to Neil Gibson

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    4. In reply to Gerard Dean

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    5. In reply to Neil Gibson

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    6. In reply to Neil Gibson

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    7. In reply to Neil Gibson

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    8. In reply to Neil Gibson

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  2. Jake Lynch

    Director, Centre for Peace & Conflict Studies at University of Sydney

    The problem is not mining companies' reluctance to adapt to climate change, the problem is that Australia's prosperity is based largely on self-deceit: that known reserves of fossil fuel can be safely burned. That awareness is dawning in places where politics and media are up to the job of presenting and considering evidence - unlike Australia. See here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/apr/21/carbon-problems-financial-crisis-hutton

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    1. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Jake Lynch

      It's a bit harsh saying that Australia's prosperity is based largely on self deceit Jake for Australia in most things on this planet is merely a drop in the bucket and even though we may be a bit more of the bucket when it comes to coal exports, we are so only because of the international market.

      The author of the article gives a description that might make one think not just of how long it can take a huge coal carrier to turn about but that there is an immense Armada of not just carriers ( many…

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  3. Christopher Wright

    Professor of Organisational Studies at University of Sydney

    Barton,

    Thanks for this timely piece. It confirms our qualitative research that even those companies which are considered leaders in engaging with climate change are still only beginning to develop partial responses to the physical, market, reputational, and regulatory risks that climate change is unleashing.

    I think the more general point is that our modern, technologically-advanced economies are woefully unprepared for the physical, social, economic and geopolitical crises that climate change will unleash. The scale and complexity of this issue explain the significant number who would rather put their heads in the sand and pretend it's not happening. It is thus an issue we have problems responding to as it challenges our very identities and understanding of ourselves as individuals and a species: http://climatepeopleorg.wordpress.com/2013/03/08/the-moment-of-realisation/

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    1. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Christopher Wright

      The view you have Christopher is somewhere near the truth, even if there is another layer of complexity to
      " The scale and complexity of this issue explain the significant number who would rather put their heads in the sand and pretend it's not happening. It is thus an issue we have problems responding to as it challenges our very identities and understanding of ourselves as individuals and a species "

      In many cases, it will not so much be putting your head in the sand and more an acceptance…

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  4. Comment removed by moderator.

    1. In reply to Gerard Dean

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    2. In reply to Gary Murphy

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  5. mike flanagan

    retired

    I also thank the author for this informative piece.
    I would suggest we name and shame them, and/or, name and praise those that engage in addressing this challenge.

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  6. Jeremy Tager

    Extispicist

    One reason mining companies aren't too worried about climate change is that they know they will be the last to suffer. Governments of both stripes will give them what they want, when they want it. First the Queensland Government (under Bligh) allows the pumping out of mine water into river systems (including those feeding into the GBR) with a permit but no environmental assessment and now under Newman there is pretty much an unrestricted right to dispose of toxic water whenever 'necessary'. Perhaps if they had to act like citizens and not part of a corrupted political system, they would begin to think about and prepare for a future we are all going to share.

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    1. In reply to Mike Hansen

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  8. Mark Lawson

    senior journalist at Australian Financial Review

    As other posters have noted it is difficult to see why the mining companies would factor in climate change. What is the life cycle of a mine? 30-40 years is a stretch? Assuming temperatures do increase in that time why would that be of a concern given that much of the industry is in the outback where air conditioning for workers is already a given? In any case, forecasts in this area are still unreliable. In 2009 forecasts were insisting that then drought in SE Aus would continue for ever, just before three years of rain. After that they talked about dealing with floods and drought. The industry is already well used to both flooding rains and drought, and can always adjust their operations after the fact, if there is a problem..

    In all, the survey and article is dealing with issues that the author deems important, not what the industry deems to be important.

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    1. Gary Murphy

      Independent Thinker

      In reply to Mark Lawson

      "In 2009 forecasts were insisting that then drought in SE Aus would continue for ever,..."
      I think what they actually said was that there was an increased probability of more droughts.

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    2. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to Mark Lawson

      Mark. Does the fact that you are consistently wrong ever give you reason to pause?

      "In 1989, at a presentation to the Prime Minister’s Science Council, Dr Graeme Pearman of CSIRO summarised a scenario of climate change for Australia in 2030. He said there would be:
      * higher summer rainfall over northern Australia and extending further south.
      * possibly drier winters in southern Australia
      * more intense rainfall."

      "CSIRO warned the NSW government in 1997-98 of “extreme daily rainfall intensity and frequency increases in many regions, particularly in summer and autumn”.

      The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has made similar remarks regarding the increase in heavy rain events for Australia and other regions in its reports starting in 1990."

      https://theconversation.com/droughts-and-flooding-rains-climate-change-models-predict-increases-in-both-5470

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    3. Mark Lawson

      senior journalist at Australian Financial Review

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      Mike - ignoring your silly statement about being "consistently wrong" go back and look at your own post. You're quoting a 1989 report! If they'd stuck with that, then you wouldn't be chastising me for pointing out problems. But they didn't. I'm referring to the "South Eastern Australian Climate Initiative" reporting in August 2009 where they said the drought would be ongoing. they mention floods in passing. this was later magnified into claims that the dams would never be full again - claims that were frequently repeated. We then got three years of floods.

      The report you're quoting is in response to that obvious failure and the subsequent heavy criticism. It is a notorious incident. So they quoted the 1989 report and ignored the 2009 report.. As for the IPCC report when it comes to rainfall its general stuff..

      Nope, long term rainfall forecasts are unreliable at the mo, and that's that..

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    4. Mark Lawson

      senior journalist at Australian Financial Review

      In reply to Gary Murphy

      No, I'm referring to the "South Eastern Australian Climate Initiative" reporting in August 2009.. they talked about the drought of the time continuing and rainfall being permanently impaired. Then they got three years of floods. Very embarrassing..

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    5. Mark Lawson

      senior journalist at Australian Financial Review

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      Sorry, where I say the report is in response to the obvious failure.. I'm referring the Conversation article. It was written to explain away the embarrassing failure of rainfall forecasting.. and that story quotes the much earlier Pearman forecasting effort..

      That forecasting failure cost the greenhouse guys a lot of credibility in SE Aus..

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    6. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to Mark Lawson

      You appear to be struggling with your story Mark. Take your time and BTW providing links is considered polite when you make claims.

      Meanwhile
      "This was summarised in a CSIRO-BoM set of projections in 2007:
      “Models show an increase in daily precipitation intensity but also in the number of dry days. Extreme daily precipitation tends to increase in many areas but not in the south in winter and spring when there is a strong decrease in mean precipitation."

      This is the 2007 report
      http://climatechangeinaustralia.com.au/documents/resources/TR_Web_FrontmatterExecSumm.pdf

      Is this 2007 forecast generally what happened. Yes.
      "The most notable trends are the reduction in rainfall during the cooler months of the year across southern Australia; and increases in summer, monsoon rainfall across northern Australia."
      https://theconversation.com/droughts-and-flooding-rains-what-is-due-to-climate-change-6524

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    7. Dianna Arthur

      Environmentalist

      In reply to Mark Lawson

      @Mark Lawson

      Quick question, do you believe that continuing to release previously locked in carbon via burning coal, oil and similar industry will not have any effect on the environment?

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    8. Mark Lawson

      senior journalist at Australian Financial Review

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      Mike - your links destroy your own case.. admittedly they are closer than the 2009 report I pointed to (look it up) but none of them came anywhere close to forecasting the reality of flooding for three years.. with the provsio that the language is so vague they can be stretched to include anything, as you have shown..

      You also still have the problem that the public heard the 2009 report. So the result was a public relations disaster for your industry, but this you should know. In any case, as you have have shown, the forecasts in this are either wrong or too vague to be of any use. No wonder the mining industry won't take climate issues into account in its planning. As always, nice to spar with you..

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    9. Mark Lawson

      senior journalist at Australian Financial Review

      In reply to Dianna Arthur

      A loaded question of there ever was one. The answer is I don't know although I'd be surprised. The big problem is that theory has yet to deliver anything useful. When it makes a useful, usable forecast that can be confirmed then I will admit the error of my ways, go away and shut up (as Mike Hanson no doubt longs that I should). The long time scales involved make this a difficult condition to fulfill, I admit, but so far its not looking good.

      leave it with you.

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    10. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to Gary Murphy

      That is the one Gary.

      "Climate variability and change in south-eastern Australia"

      From the Executive Summary
      "This raises the possibility that the current dry conditions in south‑eastern Australia may persist, and even possibly intensify. However, given that natural variability is also likely to be playing a role in the rainfall decline, it is also possible that there may be a return to somewhat wetter conditions in the short-term."

      Because the climate cranks do not understand the science…

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    11. Dianna Arthur

      Environmentalist

      In reply to Mark Lawson

      People who tell others on an open forum to "go away and shut up" do not deserve anything more than loaded questions.

      When the Senior Journalist of the FIN grows up, he can play with the adults.

      Not even "I don't know" cuts it when all that is needed is common sense, not even peer reviewed science is required to know you don't crap in your own nest. The earth is being crapped in.

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    12. Grant Burfield

      Dr

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      It still won't "give you a fairly good idea" what the next six throws will be. If you have developed a statistical theory that does, pass Go and collect your Fields medal.

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    13. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to Grant Burfield

      It still won't "give you a fairly good idea" what the next six throws will be.

      Gee. Should have have seen the pedant with some word parsing coming.

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    14. Grant Burfield

      Dr

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      Sorry Mike, you seem to be a regular and prolific commentor here, so I suppose you are allowed to post mathematical nonsense. I won't bother about pointing out your shortcomings again.

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    15. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to Grant Burfield

      mathematical nonsense? So you are saying that if I threw a die 6,000 times there is no way that I could have a "fair idea" of the outcome?

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    16. Grant Burfield

      Dr

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      Two sentences that followed each other -

      1. It [statistics] cannot tell you what the next 6 throws of the die will be. Correct. Well done. And then the next sentence ....
      2. But throw the die 6,000 times and it can give you a good idea#. Of what? No mention. Anything to do with your first sentence? Presumably because they are contiguous.

      Your first sentence is correct. The second would be if you expanded it further. Combined they amount to patent mathematical nonsense.

      # I admire your mathematical precision.

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  9. Michel Syna Rahme

    logged in via email @hotmail.com

    These open dismissals of evidence by our senior citizens Gerard Dean and Neil Gibson truly baffle my mind. If I try to find and follow the foundations of their thinking, it leads me to a place where I feel truly sorry for a person dwelling there for long, let alone stuck there. 'Hell' is the word that first pops into my mind if I had to describe that place.

    More importantly, is it possible for TC to provide us with more expert analysis on potential future impacts to the global economy and financial…

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    1. Neil Gibson

      Retired Electronics Design Engineer

      In reply to Michel Syna Rahme

      Michel
      With Germany building a string of new coal fired stations and China building a new one nearly every other week I would not lose any sleep about the coal or gas industries. Gas is fast becoming the major fuel for power stations in the US and is very cheap forcing power intensive European companies to relocate to compete. CSG is revolutionising the availability of energy worldwide. Renewables will never be more than a small part of the electricity mix of a modern country as they are expensive…

      Read more
    2. Paul Richards

      integral operating system

      In reply to Neil Gibson

      Neil Gibson wrote "The global warming religion is based on belief in the accuracy of computer models which have been proved to be completely inaccurate"
      As always critical thinking leads to both sides of an issue, thank you for the link to Roy Spencers 'Blog'. This rogue climatologist Roy Spencer is a signatory to An Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming.
      This group states that "Earth and its ecosystems are created by God's intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful…

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    3. Paul Richards

      integral operating system

      In reply to Michel Syna Rahme

      Michel Syna Rahme wrote; "These open dismissals of evidence by our senior citizens Gerard Dean and Neil Gibson truly baffle my mind" This is so true, baffling. However please note this level of thought from my understanding is tied to other signatory of : "An Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming"
      The Baptist Press in the US and religiously conservative politics is often linked to the belief in 'God' being in control. Ergo; global warming is not real, because God is in control.
      Both of us…

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  10. Comment removed by moderator.

    1. Christopher Wright

      Professor of Organisational Studies at University of Sydney

      In reply to Peter Sommerville

      Wow Peter Sommerville what a bizarre statement - "no real expertise" - really?

      The issue of adaptation to climate change is fundamentally about the cognitive and emotional understandings of individuals to changes in climate and their social communication and construction in groups, organisations and societies. This is the bread and butter of social science disciplines like sociology, psychology, behavioural economics, organisational behaviour, and anthropology.

      If you believe the issue of climate…

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