While there are many uncertainties around climate change, it is possible to understand the risks, plan, and take effective action. Companies that take part in a rigorous planning process are much better positioned to weather the risks associated with future climate scenarios. This is what global resources giant Glencore was seeking when it asked Golder to provide support during the development of a climate change plan for its Sudbury Integrated Nickel Operations in response to their corporate Sustainability Development Goals.
One of the key actions was to develop a decision-making process using a cost-benefit analysis to help prioritize potential adaptation measures and understand when they should be implemented, now or at some point in the future. Both direct costs, such as loss of operating hours, and indirect costs, such as reputational impact, were considered as well as how implemented adaptation measures would change these costs under current and future climate conditions. This decision-making process gives Glencore insights into when the financial costs of the business-as-usual scenario are outweighed by the gains from implementing adaptation measures, and thus inform capital planning.
This is especially true for taking proactive steps to increase climate change resilience. Without planning, the risks that enterprises face may turn out to be from an unexpected direction. One of the key aspects of developing this climate change plan was to build on the existing risk framework at Glencore and to add a climate lens to existing programs. This allowed for ownership of climate considerations at multiple levels within Glencore. Presenting the climate change plan as an integrated part of operations and culture, instead of being a stand-alone document, was both more efficient and effective. This approach also helped to engage management teams and technical experts in the process of identifying climate risks and proposing adaptive measures.
The development of the climate change plan started with an interactive workshop with key members of Operations, Engineering, Capital, and other departments. The session raised awareness of the impacts of extreme weather and climate change on operations, specifically infrastructure, and solicited measures to cope with the impacts. Putting climate change into the existing risk vocabulary allowed for project team member buy-in and advanced the discussion to identify and prioritize site-specific challenges. Since the initial workshop, annual working group meetings have been held with a focused project team to review progress towards climate-related goals, updated climate data and results from in-depth engineering assessments.
Managing the unknown
An example of the risks considered in the initial workshop was whether increasing temperatures could cause a rain-on-snow event in which a warm spell in winter results in rainfall on snow, melting some of the snow and causing a sudden flood of water into a mine property. This has the potential to overwhelm existing measures put in place to deal with inflowing water.
However, further study of the potential climate impacts on how water moves through the mine’s water management system showed that a greater threat was likely to come from too little water, particularly in the autumn months of September and October. These tend to be low-precipitation months in that part of the world, and streams and lakes can be at a low point. Glencore’s operations in the Sudbury area rely on water for a range of purposes and too little water would cause as much of a problem as too much.
Based on this analysis, Glencore was able to identify risk-management steps to provide enough water if climate change results in less water availability at certain times of year – steps that might include pumping groundwater to maintain good flows of water for tailings management and wastewater polishing.
Turning uncertainty into action
Moving forward, Glencore plans to continue the annual working group meetings as part of the evolution of the original climate change plan into a living adaptive management plan. The adaptive management plan will not only document the climate considerations to date but also provide a description of thresholds and triggers for when actions should be implemented.
Golder’s multi-disciplinary climate vulnerability team continues to provide ongoing climate change adaptation and mitigation support services to identify potential climate risks and the adaptation/mitigation solutions to reduce risks.
Glencore has taken actionable steps to address climate uncertainty, leveraging existing risk management systems and processes within the organization to increase ownership and engagement in the adaptive management plan as it evolves over time.