Now is the time for careful planning and adaptation to future climate scenarios if the industry is to preserve its social and environmental licence as well as protect its risk profile, profitability and attractiveness to investors.
Achieving climate resilience in the Western Australia mining industry sounds like a daunting proposition, but it’s possible to break the journey into some logical steps.
Find out what climate change could look like for you
Climate change modelling is complex – and the changes expected at a broad scale across the state will vary significantly when viewed at finer regional and local scales. Overall, we can be reasonably confident that rainfall patterns across Western Australia will change. We expect to see overall precipitation totals decrease, with an overall increase in evaporation (more droughts), but with varying patterns in different areas. We also anticipate more intense storms (and more floods).
Although the mining sector already routinely considers significant climate events (such as once-in-a-century floods) in the design of water infrastructure and tailings facilities, climate change is a multiplier and intensifier of such events – and no business can afford complacency.
For a detailed and useful picture of potential climate impacts in your location, you will need access to fine-scale predictions and specialist interpretations. It’s not good enough to try to apply East Coast hydrology to Western Australia, nor to generalise across the entire state. And it’s no longer sensible to rely on estimates based on historical patterns. Seek out a consultant who has access to the big data and cutting-edge coding that can drill down to the relevant information for your specific site. Armed with this insight, you can better understand your baseline climate scenario, as well as projections at various timescales that intersect with the life stages of your mining project.
Assess your climate-related risks
Once you have a more informed picture of the likely changes to your mining operation’s local climate, you can assess what those changes mean for your infrastructure, from design to operations and closure. Although some of the most obvious and direct impacts may be to your own physical infrastructure, also consider the indirect impacts on the health and safety of your personnel and nearby communities, broader environmental impacts, legal liability and reputational damage, other economic impacts, and disruptions to infrastructure beyond your control – such as access and transport routes for your product or personnel, port facilities, and electrical and water infrastructure.
An example of this is the 2010–11 Queensland floods, which cost the mining industry an estimated $2.5 billion. Flooding of coal mines and rail lines and disruption to port services reduced Queensland’s total exports by 7.8% that year.
Increased temperatures are already being experienced in many parts of Western Australia. These higher temperatures and extensive dry conditions have increased the fire risk over the last four decades. The state is also experiencing sea-level rise that is three times more than the global average. All of which can affect mining routines such as drilling, site expedition, infrastructural failure, import and exporting goods, etc.
Identify and design potential adaptation and mitigation measures
A clear picture of specific, local climate risks leads naturally to identifying or designing potential adaptations and mitigations to increase your mine’s climate resilience. Your considerations here should extend beyond timing, cost and impact, to also include your mine’s community. What might your possible mitigation measures mean for your workers and their families, for other local residents and businesses?
Projected future climate conditions might lead to increased energy demand and could damage infrastructure. To prepare for these impacts, start to build adaptation plans such as ‘fit-for purpose’ water use, employing local energy sources (e.g. wind and solar), and conducting more frequent heat-assessment for infrastructure and technologies.
Forming meaningful relationships with local communities is a key input to greater resilience. By understanding local needs under current and future conditions, all sectors and stakeholders can collaborate to support each other in times of need. For instance, industry could assist with building roads and power plants for the nearby community and, in return, gain greater access to diversified energy resources.
Implement and monitor your mitigation measures
Now it’s time to put your understanding of climate impacts and your plans for climate resilience into action. But climate change isn’t a story with a neat ending. Building climate resilience is an ongoing process that needs to be continuously informed by surveillance data and up-to-date climate projections, as well as by regularly monitoring and assessing impacts on the ground. Armed with this data, you can proactively reassess risks and adjust your plans. Combining historical data and future projections under different scenarios can help to identify potentially vulnerable components of your systems, which need to be reassessed within your risk management framework.
It’s also important that you continually reassess your mitigation measures in the light of advances in science, technology and standards. Available guidelines and standards such as the Global Tailings Standard and the Mining Association of Canada (MAC) Guide on Climate Change Adaptation for the Mining Sector provide valuable guidance on climate change adaptation specifically for the mining sector to increase resilience, decrease potential impacts and reduce adaptation costs. They also advise on how to gain value from the changes that are beneficial to the industry (e.g. making use of WA’s abundant solar resources) by improving management policies. While these global guidelines are a useful general resource, the industry will need exclusive studies for specific regions of interest to support the adoption or implementation of the guidelines or to provide tailored advice for local innovation.
In a changing climate and a dynamic industry, ‘resilience’ is not a fixed destination with a clearly marked track. The journey towards climate resilience is a bit murkier and muddier, and it will call for some agility, flexibility and courage. But every journey has to start somewhere, and it’s high time to begin.
If you would like a trusted advisor to support you on your journey towards greater climate resilience, contact Sheena to access specialist insights into climate predictions for your location, or to discuss risk assessment, mitigation and adaptations.
About the author
Sheena is a Senior Water Resources Engineer specialising in flood risk and surface water management and has over 14 years of mining and consultancy experience both in Australia and the UK. Sheena has been involved in providing technical support to large scale iron ore mining projects, including conducting detailed hydrologic and hydraulic studies for engineering designs of flood infrastructure and environmental impact assessments in support of government approval applications. Sheena’s core skills include hydrologic and hydraulic modelling, environmental impact assessments, water balance modelling, dam break analysis and GIS.
Hamideh is a Water Resources Engineer and Climate Change Specialist based in the Perth office with more than 5 years of experience in this field. She has a PhD in Civil and Water Resources engineering from Curtin University in Western Australia and has collaborated with scientific and research organisations such as CSIRO and Lund University, Sweden. Since starting with Golder, Hamideh has conducted several hydrological assessments for mining sites in Australia and internationally, with focus on climate change impacts and future climate scenarios for mine planning purposes.
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