The Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) has released an action plan committing the Australian minerals industry to decarbonising the economy and addressing climate change.

MCA said the minerals sector “acknowledges the critical importance of technology in reducing emissions”. The scale of the technology-led transformation required will not occur without Australian minerals and raw materials, MCA noted. “The industry sees great opportunities for minerals such as lithium, cobalt and copper in all forms of transport infrastructure, communications and energy systems.”  

The Action Plan comprises a 10-point framework to support three core objectives and a comprehensive three-year rolling workplan with 30 activities. It will be reviewed annually “to ensure it remains consistent with Australia’s climate policy ambitions in support of the Paris Agreement”.

According to the plan, to achieve an ambition of net zero emissions
in Australia requires a stable national policy framework that includes:
•       Substantially increased research,development and investment in technologies and processes to reduce mine site emissions.
•       Widespread deployment of low and zero emission technologies, including consideration of all technologies.
•       Credible, verified low cost abatement options, including domestic and international offsets.
•       Accelerated development of the minerals required for a low emissions future including aluminium, copper, nickel, zinc, iron, uranium, base metals, lithium, minerals sands, and rare earths.
•       Global and domestic partnerships with governments, regulators, customers, technology developers, universities, NGOs and other relevant groups to drive new technologies that cost-effectively reduce emissions. •       Policies that foster continued economic growth and investor confidence in Australia.

It outlines a series of actions focused on three key themes: support developing technology pathways to achieve significant reductions in Australia’s greenhouse emissions; increased transparency on climate-change related reporting and informed advocacy; and knowledge sharing of the mineral sector’s responses to addressing climate change.

MCA says major opportunities exist in pursuing decarbonisation including through operational efficiencies, abatement, developing and deploying low emissions technologies including renewables, hydrogen, proven, safe and reliable carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS) and advanced nuclear solutions, as well as digitisation, automation, and electrification.

Australia is the world's leading coal exporter. In 2018, the country produced 301.1Mtoe of coal, consuming about 15% for domestic needs. With exports of 249.4Mtoe, Australia accounted for 29% of the total coal exports in 2018. 

Australia also has the world's largest known uranium resources, amounting to almost one-third of the world total. In 2019, Australia produced almost 7800 tonnes of U3O8, ranking third behind Kazakhstan and Canada.

The plan met with criticism from several quarters: Australian Conservation Foundation's Gavan McFadzean said MCA did not take climate change seriously. "You can't keep digging up coal and gas in Australia … and think putting a couple of solar panels on a mine site is going to deal with the climate crisis," he told AAP. He added that the plan was meant to handle a PR crisis as the mining industry's reputation kept being dragged down by its coal and gas sectors.

The Financial Post said the plan “is probably significant for what it doesn’t say than what it does”. The Post says that the inclusion of CCUS among the list of low emissions technologies “would appear to be little more than a sop to the coal mining industry”. Apart from the coal sector and its promotors “it’s hard to find any credible researcher, analyst or industry leader who believes CCUS is viable from a cost or scale perspective,” the Post notes, adding: “The council’s mention of nuclear power also appears designed to distract from other issues, given Australia’s policy of no nuclear power and widespread public support for that position.”