By Dale Marshall, Climate Change Policy Analyst

It has become clear to anyone following the science of global warming that adapting to climatic changes will be absolutely necessary. Changes have begun and will only become more pronounced in the future, for all sectors and all regions of Canada.

Take the mining sector. Yes, it's a natural resource sector but not necessarily one of those we think of when we hear of climate change impacts. Droughts in the prairie wheat belt, beetle infestations and fires in our forests, disappearing salmon due to warmer water temperatures...these may be top of mind. But a report released today by the David Suzuki Foundation shows that the mining sector is also vulnerable to global warming: see

There are several recent examples of climatic events having an effect on mining operations. In 2006, a diamond mine in the Northwest Territories had to send supplies in by helicopter, with millions in additional costs, because warmer temperatures made the winter road impassable. Intense rain events have flooded roads, cutting off access to mines. Hot, dry conditions have impeded water usage for Quebec gravel mines, forcing gravel quarries in Quebec to curtail production in order to abide by dust suppression regulations..

In fact, the researchers commissioned by the Foundation found that a significant percentage of those surveyed from the mining industry (between 34 and 48 per cent, based on separate surveys) say that climate change is already affecting their operations. Two-thirds of those think the impacts have been "bad" or "very bad." Let's remember that primary mineral extraction alone is a $10 billion industry, employing 50,000 people.

Given that impacts are happening, are mining companies trying to adapt? It depends who from the industry you ask. Not surprisingly, mining practitioners who had directly experienced disruptive climatic events were significantly more likely to be planning to adapt. What is surprising, however, is that those that think that future climate change will be bad for business are not more likely to be planning for those impacts. So adaptation to global warming is happening in only a limited way and on an ad hoc basis.

The research revealed another interesting discrepancy. All of those surveyed who work in day-to-day mining operations thought that future climate change would affect their companies. However, only 1-in-4 senior executives perceived this threat, suggesting that inertia in senior ranks may be constraining adaptive planning in the Canadian mining sector.

The lessons from the research are clear. Mining industry leaders need to more effectively communicate the potential risks of global warming. Companies need to identify the most cost-effective measures and technologies that will allow mines to adapt, specifically looking for win-win adaptation strategies.

Governments have a role too. Regulations are needed to mandate that mines plan for climate change both during their operational lifespan and throughout decommissioning. Regulatory certainty is also needed with respect to reducing emissions and thus minimizing global warming. After all, we still have a choice to experience a little climate change or a lot of climate change. Guess which of those scenarios will be easier and less costly to adapt to?

[Originally posted on Vancouver Sun — Community of Interest]

August 19, 2009

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