Mining & Climate Change

The science of climate change is clear – burning fossil fuels is leading to increased atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, particularly, carbon dioxide (CO2).

Long-term this will have a warming impact on the atmosphere, and oceans. Taking action is justified.

Climate change is a global issue, demanding a global response. All New Zealanders contribute to GHG emissions, and the mining industry is no exception.

To place mining in the New Zealand context: in 2011 our GHG emissions were divided between: agriculture (47%); energy, mainly transport (43%), industrial processes (7%), and waste (3%).

Mining and coal use made small contributions to the figures for industrial processes  and agriculture through excavation machinery, trucks, crushing and chemical processing machinery which use electricity and fuel (chiefly diesel).

Straterra’s position on climate change

Coal and climate change

Coal is the most emissions-intensive fossil fuel – it releases more CO2 per unit of energy produced than other fossil fuels, for example, around twice as much as natural gas. However it’s not easy for NZ to stop using coal. Of the 2.8 million tonnes of coal used in New Zealand in 2012, 72% was used in industry and electricity generation. Coal is used in steel and cement-making; dairy, meat, fish, and other food processing; hothouse horticulture; breweries; and in wood, timber, and wool processing.

However coal has huge advantages – it is one-third the price of electricity as a source of heat in industrial processes, which is why it is used. Biomass alternatives – a renewable energy source – are coming down in price as the technologies improve, however they are still prohibitively more expensive than coal.  

Currently coal has a vital role in supplying globally low-cost energy, and as an essential input for the making of steel. However it is a transition fuel and at some stage technology will develop to the point that other forms of energy can compete economically.

New Zealand ranks second in the world to Iceland for the contribution of renewables to electricity generation, at 76% of total capacity. This figure continues to increase as more geothermal stations are developed in the Central North Island. The role of coal as an energy source in NZ will continue to reduce over time.

NZ coal in a global context

New Zealand produces around 5 million tonnes of coal a year. That is 0.06% of global production, according to the World Coal Association. Of the 7.8 billion tonnes produced in 2012, 45% was produced in China, with the US, India, Indonesia and Australia producing a further 30%.

There is no likelihood of the world running out of coal any time soon – an estimated one trillion tonnes is readily available for mining. At the current rate of production, that would take 130 years to deplete. During that time more mineable resources would be found. Coal is very much a global issue.

Coal has a vital role to play in alleviating poverty and allowing poorer countries to improve their economic conditions. That is a simple reality, and will remain so until new and better technologies are available.

New Zealand’s contribution to climate change is tiny, but we recognise our obligation to play our part. Nevertheless climate change is a global problem and as emerging economies develop, collaboration involving both developed and developing countries will be required.