The Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) has released a Climate Action Plan (CAP), which, considering the MCA is about as greenhouse-gas-friendly as the atmosphere of Venus, is precisely as weak and vacuous as could be expected.
Last year, UK think-tank IM Influence Map included the MCA on its list of the world’s top ten opponents of the climate, ranking it alongside the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and describing the pair as “highly climate-oppositional groups that have had a significant impact on undermining climate action in key fossil fuel exporting countries.”
A Climate Action Plan is a laudable response to the MCA’s exposure. However, there is little to laud in the CAP itself. Indeed the CAP is so vacuous that it makes a black-hole look busier than Beijing.
Overall, the CAP invokes much of the same rhetoric is Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor and his Technology Roadmap. This is to say, “The minerals industry works with manufacturing and innovation partners to invent, develop and deploy new techniques and technologies.” But these techniques and technologies don’t’ necessarily have to be clean.
The CAP sets out three core objectives:
- Enabling the potential of technology to decarbonise the minerals sector
- Increasing transparency in reporting
- Sharing of practical knowledge on climate responses.
Ideology always dresses itself in platitudes, and the MCA’s Climate Action Plan is all dressed up with nowhere to go. Of the first objective, the MCA proposes actions such as: “Enhance national and global discussions on low emissions technologies/ Define a greater role for the minerals sector / Support the development of policies and technologies to achieve least-cost abatement”. In other words, the MCA is going to facilitate a talk a bunch of hot air and lobby for policies that don’t hurt them financially. Nothing but platitudes.
Dan Gocher, Director of Climate and the Environment at the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR), challenged the MCA to articulate even just one single tangible step in its CAP. Gocher noted that any policy of real substance is conspicuously missing, such as:
- A commitment around carbon pricing or any broader policies to decarbonise;
- Tangible dates and milestones for full decarbonisation, specifically beyond operations and regarding Scope 3 emissions from their products;
- Any specific detail regarding the emissions from coal mining, including fugitive methane emissions;
- Phase out of coal mining or coal-fired power;
- Abandonment of position on Kyoto carryover credits or other discounts to Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs)
- Decarbonisation of steel production.
“After two years,” continues Gocher, “is this really the best they could come up with? There is absolutely nothing new here. This is embarrassing and woefully inadequate: the MCA can’t even commit to net zero emissions by any date…This ‘plan’ is the equivalent of a dead cat on a table – and a clear distraction from the mining industry’s cultural heritage woes.”
Gocher is alluding to the recent wilful destruction of a 46,0000-year-old heritage site at Juukan Gorge by Rio Tinto despite the expressed concerns of traditional owners.
Gocher says that it is time for investors in MCA member companies to say enough is enough. “This policy represents business as usual and further delays to action. Investors must call time on this farce.”
Thankfully, investors have responded to the MCA’s CAP swiftly. The Australian Financial Review reports that a group of major investors are demanding the MCA provide more information on how its members will reach net zero carbon emissions, saying the lobby group’s climate action plan was too vague. That group is the $878 billion UK giant Aberdeen Standard Investment, which questioned the MCA’s reliance on carbon capture and storage (CCS) and the MCA’s failure to include scope 3 emissions in its pledge of hot air.
Aberdeen Standard Investment was also one of the major backers of a shareholder resolution which very nearly saw BHP, MCA’s most powerful member, leave the council due to its position on climate change. The resolution was ultimately voted down but sent a strong message of growing corporate accountability.
Tania Constable, CEO of MCA, said “the MCA and its members are taking action on climate change as part of the minerals sector’s collective commitment to the Paris Agreement and its goal of net-zero emissions globally and in Australia.”
For the MCA to say that it is taking action highlights Constable’s ethical confusion. Yes, the moral philosopher will assert that inaction is action still, but doing nothing for the climate is not the same as acting on its behalf. And the real action of the MCR is to feign and dummy and provide yet another delaying tactic in a time-sensitive global crisis.
Of course, the MCA does not fail that some mine sites are investing in renewable energy, specifically, the February 2020 announcement that Rio Tinto would power its Koodaideri iron ore mine in the Pilbara with a 34 MW solar farm. Nor did the MCA fail to mention the necessity of minerals such as lithium, cobalt, copper and rare earths in renewable technologies.
Constable said that this “plan demonstrates that the minerals sector not only has the ambition to decarbonise the sector – it also has an action plan to get there.” Unfortunately, publishing the plan is about as active as the MCA looks like it is going to get any time soon.