Using Forests to Help Miners Reach Net Zero Targets

Sustainable Mine Energy Systems,

What if we used forest ecosystems and forest sector supply chains as (the) negative emissions vehicle? – Greg Paradis

Sustainable development in mining is a tricky business. Despite a growing number of innovations to offset carbon – from improved tools to purchasing credits – the emissions problem will never disappear entirely from the mining sector. Even with cutting-edge technologies and operational efficiencies, about 30% of the needed emissions reductions will remain elusive, and won’t be met through in-house changes alone. So how do we bridge the gap?

“What if we used forest ecosystems and forest sector supply chains as that negative emissions vehicle?” asks UBC’s Bradshaw Research Institute for Minerals and Mining (BRIMM) researcher Greg Paradis, who has partnered with Newmont Mining to conduct a year-long study into nature-based decarbonization opportunities across five Canadian mining sites. 

“If an investment from a mining company could make the difference between business-as-usual carbon flow in a forest system and a highly improved one, then mining companies can argue that their investment directly resulted in reduced emissions. This would enable them to achieve their net-zero commitments in a way that’s slightly unconventional, but ultimately more effective than simply buying pre-certified credits.”

Paradis is taking a holistic approach to carbon-capture strategy – studying not only sequestration techniques, but also biodiversity, job creation, and reconciliation opportunities for First Nations communities. It’s the first study of its kind, creating a multi-dimensional analysis that weighs a wide range of factors to create a bundle of high-value, low-cost solutions to help mining companies stabilize their carbon-capture portfolios and minimize the cost of achieving their decarbonization commitments.

Sustainability solutions in the mining and forest sectors are usually studied in isolation, which provides a partial picture, with the perceived benefits sometimes masking hidden costs or drawbacks. Instead of a myopic focus on lowest-cost models, Paradis’s study strives for a more nuanced understanding that balances higher costs against the broader benefits those investments might offer.

By redefining the way we evaluate costs in a mining project, Paradis hopes to create a sustainable development framework that finds the best combinations of effectiveness, cost, environmental impact, and social considerations. 

“We’re looking for insight into where the highest, most promising return on investment opportunities are right now,” explains Paradis. “We’re bundling co-benefits instead of purely looking at carbon, so we can weigh each potential solution by its full impact. If we see a natural fit, I think we’re going to give big bonus points to that – for instance, we should be willing to pay a huge premium for sequestering carbon if we can bundle it with reconciliation opportunities.”

Paradis’s project is just the first step in laying the foundation for a sustainable and equitable mining future, ultimately based on a techno-economic analysis that assesses value and feasibility in costing out these benefit packages. “Let’s pretend for a million dollars, you get this much carbon,” he explains, “but also this much improvement in biodiversity, and this many jobs. 

“And there’s nothing specific to gold or Newmont about this. The cost of deploying it elsewhere should be much lower than the cost of this first prototype. So if this works really well, the next step is to go big and round up – scaling this type of analysis and this conceptual framework elsewhere in Canada and across the industry.”

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