Extreme weather events in Australia over recent years have highlighted the costs for Australian mining and mineral processing operations of being under-prepared for adapting to climate risk. For example, the 2010/2011 Queensland floods closed or restricted production of about forty out of Queensland’s fifty coal mines costing more than $2 billion in lost production.
This project synthesises case studies, options and skills needed for minerals industry professionals to adapt to climate change in the areas of flood, drought, bushfire and high temperatures and health in the guide; Adapting to climate risks and extreme weather: a guide for mining and minerals industry professionals. The guide should be read in conjunction with this final report. The Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney (UTS) led the development of the guide and worked with a Steering Committee from the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy’s Sustainability Committee and with input from the Health & Safety Committee and individual members, who volunteered their time and experience. This final report describes the research process for developing the guide and reflects on challenges and lessons for adaptation research from the project.
Consultation with mining and mineral processing professionals identified variability in the state awareness, knowledge and preparedness of climate change adaptation in the Australian mining and minerals processing industry. The research found limited information on climate change adaptation for mining and minerals professionals in the public domain, and identified several barriers to having a more precise understanding of the industry’s awareness and knowledge at the present time.
While extreme events may have been anticipated in the planning at case-study mines, the extent and costs of damage was not accurately predicted. In areas where flooding and storms are infrequent events, the costs and losses from events that have exceeded the design assumptions of operations have been large, and return to production has taken many months. In areas where such events are routine, it is still possible to under-estimate the effects and the risk posed by an accumulation of small impacts. In both cases, post-flooding impacts have included additional costs for the operations, such as measures to limit or eliminate damage from de-watering processes, and monitoring of local water resources.
The prospect of increased frequency or severity of storm activity in parts of Australia, combined with extended periods of drought and more extended periods of high temperatures, increases the risks of damage from subsequent heavy rainfall and flooding. Success in reducing or managing such risks will require planning and risk mitigation procedures that incorporate heavy rainfall and flood into operational models and increased awareness at sites.
Consultation during this project identified a range of adaptive approaches to planning which build on an established culture of safety and risk assessment in the sector and that can assist Australian mining and mineral processing professionals in responding to the prospect of increased risk from a changing climate.
Further development of capacity for adaptation amongst mining professionals may be dependent upon greater knowledge sharing in the public domain and a more active dialogue with government and communities regarding the importance of climate change adaptation as part of the industry’s ‘social licence to operate’. Adopting a collaborative approach to recognising the potential implications of extreme weather events would allow industry professionals to focus on planning and delivering adaptation measures to benefit stakeholders and industry.
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