The authors of this Special Report in Canadian Mining Journal surveyed delegates at this year’s Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) international convention in Toronto to document perceptions of mine sector practitioners on the vulnerability of mining to climate change. Here’s what the PDAC delegates had to say about Canada’s climate and its impact on mining.
1) The mine sector is sensitive to climatic hazards
The majority of practitioners surveyed identified mine sector operations to be sensitive to climatic hazards, with 76% of respondents indicating that climate hazards have a negative impact on mine operations. 50% identified this impact as being moderate, and 26% as being large. Snowfall was noted as the most common event affecting mine operations (55%) with freezing rain having the least impact. 36% of respondents noted that forest fires and ice conditions affected operations. Almost one quarter of respondents viewed flooding, storms, and heavy rainfall as affecting operations.
2) Climate change is currently having a negative impact on some mine sector operations
Just under half of respondents (48%) identified climate change to be currently affecting mine sector operations; in contrast 41% identified no discernible impact. Of those respondents identifying climate change to be affecting operations, over half believe that the impacts are bad for business compared to only 15% who think they are good for business. A small number of respondents (15%) believe current changes to be very bad, with 15% identifying no positive or negative impacts. No respondents identified climate change impacts to be very good (Figure 1).
3) Companies are taking action to manage the impacts of climate change using a number of strategies
Forty-five per cent of respondents identified that their companies were taking action to manage the impacts of climate change. There is some uncertainty, however, with 28% not knowing if action was being taken. The most commonly identified responses were engineering- based, administrative, and/or technological in nature. Only 13% identified that their companies were taking advantage of the benefits being presented by climate change.
Interestingly, those practitioners who perceive climate change to be occurring and being bad for business were not more likely to report their companies taking action to manage the impacts of climate change. However, those respondents who identified climate hazards to have an impact on their company operations were significantly more likely to report action being taken to plan for climate change. This indicates that experience with climatic risks is important in determining whether companies plan for climate change.
4) Cost and uncertainty are the most commonly identified barriers to taking action to reduce the impacts of climate change
Eighty-three per cent of respondents identified barriers which potentially constrain the ability of businesses to adapt to changing climatic conditions. Of those identifying adaptation barriers, 43% identified cost and 45% uncertainty over climate change projections as limits to adaptation. An uncertain regulatory regime and the lack of skilled personnel were also noted to be important. Fewer than one quarter of respondents identified market uncertainty and short mine life span as barriers to adaptation in their company.
5) Future climate change is expected to have impacts for future company operations
Half of the respondents expect future climate change to affect the operations of their company, though 43% expected no impact. Surprisingly, 75% of senior executives and those in management positions did not view climate change as impacting their company operations, and were less likely than those in other positions to view climate change as having a potential impact.
Respondents interviewed with direct operational responsibilities, including those working as engineers and in health and safety, expect future climate change to affect company operations. Those who indicated that climate hazards currently affect mine operations were also more likely to view climate change as potentially affecting future operations. Of those who expect climate change to affect their company, the majority (55%) perceive the impact to be bad for business. Only 9% of practitioners surveyed believe climate change will be good for business (Figure 2). An equal number of respondents (9%) believe future climate change will be very bad for business.
6) Despite the perceived threat of future climate change, companies are not currently taking action to plan for future climate change
The majority of those surveyed reported that their companies were not, to their knowledge, taking action to plan for climate change that will occur in the future (Figure 3). This contrasts with the high number of companies that are taking action to manage current changes. 23% of respondents reported not knowing if their companies are taking action; this may account for the low reporting of action taken. Similar to actions taken to deal with current climate change, engineering options were the most preferred by companies planning for future climate change (50%) alongside administrative adaptations (38%).
A number of barriers to adapting to future climate change were frequently noted. These barriers are similar to those constraining current adaptation, as noted above, with the majority of respondents identifying the uncertainty of climate change impacts (65%) and cost of adaptation (54%) as limits to adaptation. Less frequently mentioned were shortages of skilled personnel and short mine life spans.
7) The mine sector is making efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions The majority (58%) of practitioners noted that their companies are making efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) responsible for climate change (Figure 4). Indeed, many companies view emissions reduction as central to their operations. Those who perceive future climate change as affecting business operations were significantly more likely to report their company to be currently taking action on GHGs. Reducing GHGs was not, however, significantly associated with whether current or expected future impacts are believed to be bad for business, and did not significantly differ according to respondent characteristics.
The results indicate that mine sector operations are sensitive to climatic hazards, particularly snowfall, ice conditions, extreme cold and forest fires. Canadian mine sector operations are often in remote locations dependent on climate sensitive transportation routes for importing supplies and exporting rock. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Canadian mine sector has noted that climate change is having discernible impacts, the majority of which are believed to be bad for business.
To our knowledge, this survey is one of the first attempts to assess how the Canadian mine sector views climate change. The results indicate that climate change is perceived as a threat by mine practitioners. More importantly, climate change is already affecting the Canadian mine sector.
Given the inevitability of future climate change and current impacts, exploring risks and preparing for future impacts — alongside efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — should be a priority. It is also noteworthy that the research we present here is being further developed during summer 2008. Detailed in-person interviewees with sector representatives will allow us to explore in more depth key trends raised here.
The scientific evidence that climate change is occurring is overwhelming. Across Canada climatic norms are shifting with implications for business, industry, and communities. The latest scientific assessm
ents indicate that continued and accelerated climate change can be expected in the future. For the mining sector, climate change is a pressing environmental threat and a significant business risk. Mine operations across the nation will be exposed to altered climate regimes and it is expected that there will be an increase in the magnitude and frequency of natural hazards. Yet our understanding of how the mining sector might be affected by climate change remains largely unknown and policy needs similarly unidentified.
The Authors: James D. Ford and Tristan Pearce,
ArcticNorth Consulting, St. Lambert, Que., Jason Prno, Knight Piesold Ltd., North Bay, Ont.,
Frank Duerden, Frank Duerden Consulting, Toronto, Lea Berrang Ford, Department of Geography,
McGill University, Montreal, and Dale Marshall, David Suzuki Foundation, Ottawa
Seven key results from this survey
1) The mine sector is sensitive to climatic hazards,
2) Climate change is currently having a negative impact on some mine sector operations,
3) Companies are taking action to manage the current impacts of climate change using a number of strategies,
4) Cost and uncertainty are the most commonly identified barriers to adaptation, 5) Future climate change is expected to have impacts for company operations, 6) Despite the perceived threat of future climate change, companies are not currently taking action to plan for future climate change, and 7) The mine sector is making efforts to reduce greenhouse gases.