Sustainable Mining in Chile

Transport vehicles in a mine

Copper mining causes seven percent of total greenhouse gas emissions in Chile. Photo: 4e Chile - GIZ Chile

Chile is the world's largest copper producer, a product that is also the main driver its economic growth. In recent years, copper mining directly and indirectly contributed to about ten percent of national gross domestic product (GDP), and nine percent of employment. In addition, more than 50 percent of total exports depend on it. Unfortunately though, Greenhouse gas (GHG) through copper mining are  correspondingly high with direct emissions in 2019 reaching 6.25 Megatonnes of CO2eq, which represent about 7 percent of the total Chilean emissions.

Mining companies' commitment to climate protection

In December 2020, 13 large copper mining companies associated with the “Consejo Minero” (Mining Council, whose members cover 97 percent of the country's copper production) voluntarily committed themselves to GHG reduction targets.

It is the first productive sector in the country to take up this type of commitment. This confirms the interest of the mining sector in contributing to the fight against climate change and, more specifically, to meet Chile's objectives of carbon neutrality by 2050 and emissions reductions by 2030, as set out in the NDCs. Previously, the “Consejo Minero” published principles on climate action in 2015 and 2019.

For Chile, the mining companies' targets are global and local in scope, some being emission level reductions while others include carbon neutrality within a defined timeframe. In general, the reductions committed are associated with changes in the electricity supply contracts towards renewable sources. t is estimated that by 2023 more than half of the electricity supply contracted by Chile's large-scale mining industry will come from renewable energy sources. There are also targets to reduce direct emissions associated with fuel substitution and energy efficiency. Voluntary annual reporting of emissions by these companies will be implemented through the “Consejo Minero”.

The idea of the raw material and climate change project

Due to the relevance for the mining sector, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) launched in 2019 the project ‘Raw materials and Climate Change: Promotion of low-carbon, environmentally sustainable and resource-efficient methods in the production of raw materials’, on behalf of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conversation and Nuclear Safety (BMU). The project is implemented in Chile by the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Programme (4e), in collaboration with the Chilean Ministry of Energy and the Chilean Energy Sustainability Agency (ASEe). Its goal is to develop policies and supporting actions in search of a more environmentally and socially responsible, yet resource-efficient, mining industry. Given the local conditions, the project in Chile focuses on the development of energy efficiency measures in the copper mines.

Launch of the Energy Efficiency Network

In March 2021 the "Energy Efficiency and Emissions Reduction Network" initiative was launched as part of the IKI project, to promote collaborative technical work between companies, generate an exchange of experiences and provide specialized advice, with a focus on efficient energy use and process improvement. The network consists in total of 14 mining companies, among others global players like Anglo American, Antofagasta Minerals, Codelco and SQM, which will work together to reduce their emissions through energy efficiency.

Juan Carlos Jobet, Minister of Energy and Mining, supported the move saying, "the challenge for the mining sector is to be more productive and at the same time more sustainable. For this, energy efficiency is a great ally, as it allows the mining industry to achieve both objectives: improve its productivity and reduce its emissions at the same time. Today, we know that energy efficiency will contribute 35 percent to the reduction of emissions to achieve our carbon neutrality. That is why the recently enacted law and initiatives such as this one help us to advance towards this goal".

In agreement, the director of the GIZ 4e Programme in Chile, Rainer Schröer, said, "the mining sector is one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases and about 30 percent of Chilean electricity is used to extract and process raw materials, mainly copper. In addition, in recent years the energy demand of the mining sector has increased annually by an average of four percent, so this network will help the sector to be more sustainable through energy efficiency and the exchange of experiences.”

Objectives and first achievements of the project in Chile

The Network is currently finalizing the work of the first study developed within this framework of action. An emissions study, which aims to analyse the carbon footprint of each mining company and to carry out a GHG Inventory for Scope 1 and 2 mining processes. Scope 1 emissions are direct GHG emissions of sources that are owned by the company, while scope 2 emissions are indirect GHG coming from the generation of the electricity consumed by the company. This is to allow companies to assess possible improvements in their emissions intensity.

Progress has also been made in classifying the units of the production process according to GHG emissions and determining emission and energy consumption factors according to each production process. The overall goal for each company is to be able to have its footprint measurement and to be able to benchmark itself against the industry.

Next steps

The next tasks of the project are to develop a set of indicators (KPIs) of energy consumption by processes in the mining sector within the companies of the network, as well as to execute a collaboration to obtain these indicators in line with energy efficiency in heat processes, ore transport and electro mobility, milling and fuel replacement. After its first year in operation, the members of the network will decide on the topics and the continuity of the network's activities.