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‘Mining can solve climate change,’ conference delegates told

Kati McCartney, a Sudbury-based delegate at this week's PDAC mining conference, says a carbon-free future absolutely requires the wealth hidden under the earth

TORONTO — A Sudbury-based environmental technology company said "responsible mining" is one of the keys to fighting the threat of climate change.

Kati McCartney made the statement Tuesday while speaking to an audience at the annual convention of the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC). McCartney is the president of FROSKR, an environmental technology and consulting firm based in the Nickel City.

"Those who work in mining and are part of this conference aren't surprised likely to hear that an environmental consulting company works in mining probably because you understand the nature of this industry — and therefore the requirement for consultants like us at FROSKR are to support mining companies in regulations and from preventing harm to the natural environment," McCartney said.

She added that mining does have a global perception of being harmful to the environment. McCartney said there is no way to avoid that perception

"When you mine you're invasive on the natural environment. Mining practices impact biodiversity; they change natural landscapes and can impact wildlife," McCartney said.

"There are no shortage of media stories of disastrous global events that accompany this industry."

To a large extent, she said, mining has earned this dubious reputation, but she quickly added that is not the reason why her company works with the mining industry.

"At FROSKR we know that mining can solve climate change. This is our greatest global challenge. According to the World Health Organization, it's the single biggest threat facing humanity," McCartney said.

She said society will need to make huge and significant technology changes and that cannot happen without the mining industry.

"We don't tackle climate change as a society without a low-carbon future and we don't have a path to decarbonization without mining," McCartney said. 

She added that such changes will require minerals from around the world to manufacture better batteries, better wind turbines and better solar panel photovoltaics. 

"The World Bank predicts that minerals like cobalt, lithium and graphite will increase by 500 per cent demand in the next 30 years. Climate change and mining are irrevocably intertwined,"  McCartney said.

She said this will provide great economic opportunities for mining companies but significant challenges will emerge if mining and environmental technology companies do not work responsibly.

Having a ‘net positive’ impact

She reiterated the idea that responsible mining companies are indeed the solution to climate change and she introduced the phrase "net positive".

"So a phrase that we've tossed around for the last two years and that I'm proud to say is that mining can have ‘net positive environmental impact’," McCartney said. 

"So if you unpack that for a minute, net positive just means that you're putting more into the environment than you're taking out. So for mining to help us solve or slow climate change, we need it to be net positive on the environment." 

McCartney said many of the net positive steps are already in motion but more needs to be done.

"That means we need terms like ‘sustainable mining’, ‘climate-smart mining’, and ‘responsible mining’. And what does it really look like for the many talks you've heard at this conference?” she said. “Electrification with little to no GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions in mining, adoption of innovative technologies, ecological protection, meaningful resource sharing with local First Nations communities, who in turn will help us learn how to steward this shared land."

Some examples of net positive steps are using battery electric vehicles in mining, remote sensing technology for real-time air and water monitoring along with real-time weather data enabling mining companies to react to any environmental changes that might occur.

McCartney said many of the procedures and technology changes are already available. She told the audience what is needed now is the political and economic will, and a commitment, from all the mining partners and technology firms.

"In order for the future to be realized of net positive environmental impacts from mining, we need to be met with global action and innovation," McCartney said. 

"Mining can have net positive environmental impacts and in Northern Ontario we know how."

Len Gillis covers mining and health care for Sudbury.com. He is currently reporting from the PDAC conference in Toronto.

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