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COP26: burning questions for the mining industry

3 Mins read

This week marks the start of a fortnight of debate and negotiation between world leaders, tastemakers, and representatives from across the business landscape. They join in Glasgow, Scotland, to discuss climate change and form a united action to protect against the continued side effects of global warming. The push toward greener, non-carbon- emitting energy sources is building momentum as technologies and social pressures mean action can start to occur at a rapid pace.

Andrew Forest & Julie Shuttleworth – two key Australian mining figures seen at COP26 with ex Australian PM, Malcolm Turnbull. Source: Twitter

It was interesting this week to see images of mining magnate, Andrew “Twiggy” Forest and ex Australian PM, Malcom Turnbull sharing chat before entering the pre conference engagements over in Glasgow. Twiggy, has recently been focusing on a new arm of his business named Fortescue Future Industries (FFI), and they have been elevating the move toward hydrogen as a power source for big business. It is timely that a dynamic business owner, with his fingers very much in the mining pie, is looking to build momentum in greener energy sources. Deep pockets and a vision into the future mean that FMG and now FFI can adapt, pivot and set a clear example for the wider mining industry to follow. 

With renewed vigour in both personal and business emission coming more into the spotlight, what could be 3 things that miners come under fire for in the medium term?

1. FIFO (Fly In, Fly Out) work practices

Emissions limitations are something that most developed nations across the globe will be looking to achieve and this will come from altering multiple parts of modern society. However, Australian mining has an ever-growing reliance on FIFO work practices, where weekly/fortnightly flights are taken by workers to and from remote mine operations (I personally work in this fashion in my primary employment role as a mine surveyor). The breakdown on flight emissions within the sector is something that would be interesting to source and analyse.

“The Master Plan 2014 identified that resource sector FIFO accounts for approximately 77 per cent of all intrastate passengers, most of these being regular FIFO employees.”

Source: Perth Airport: New Runway Project Paper – May 2018

Moreover, it is less likely that an alternative to jet fuel will be found in near term, due to the huge energy outputs aviation requires. 

Technologies and automation can transfer some of these roles to a city based office. Yet within the next 30 years it is hard to foresee mine sites operating with 50+% less staff on site.

So, how will the industry fair as air transportation emissions become something the nation looks to quell? Will the government look to invest in new remote townships and offer tax incentives to workers to support mining and regional growth. This could be seen as a double economic win by building new regional hubs whilst simultaneously reducing aviation related emissions.

2. Diesel/Gas Generated Electricity 

Current remote electricity systems across the state have already been adapted to include either wind or solar energy sources. Could we see projects utilising 80-100% of energy from renewable sources in the medium term? Underground mining uses large energy draws for both ventilation and operational activities; with EV vehicles entering the workplace this reliance on electronic power should increase.

BHP and its power partner in the Goldfields TransAlta are to build two solar farms and a battery storage system to help power the Mt Keith and Leinster operations. This will help BHP reduce emissions from electricity use at Mt Keith and Leinster by 12 per cent, based on FY2020 levels.

Source: BHP website

I have always liked the idea of staged rehab, rather than instantly turning a finalised waste dump into a wildflower planted rock mountain! Could waste dumps be utilised for banks of solar panels and then the higher elevation on the top lift be used for elevated banks of wind turbines?!

3. Diesel/ Petroleum mobile plant and delivery transport

The mining industry is rapidly moving toward electrification of its mobile plant fleet, especially within the underground sector. Further reductions in fossil fuel emissions could come from the use of electric renewably powered road trains, for delivery of the many components that are hauled to and from projects daily. This change could affect the whole dynamic of the mining supply chain, both to the project and to the port for export.

This infograph outlines one system for project supply chain that could be delivered by overhead powerlines for heavy haulage. Source:

The long distances and payloads these vehicles are expected to haul will be hard to overcome without a concerted effort by road train OEMs and upgrades to remote infrastructure.


The social obligation of mining businesses that operate both above and underground is growing. Community engagement and responsible brand awareness is something that continues to escalate across the sector. The world around us is moving into a greener future and it will be fascinating to watch how the industry reviews, adapts, and delivers its projects because of mounting social pressures.

If you like my content and discussions on underground mining, please follow me on LinkedIn or Facebook. I continually strive to offer new and interesting content for those exploring new technologies and ideas for underground mining – so please send me an email if you would like to get involved.

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