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Assessing GHGs and Global Climate Change in EIAs

The issue of global climate change remains a highly contentious subject for both layman and world leaders alike. However, regardless of your social, political or scientific position on the root causes, many governments have identified global warming a major threat to the planet in the 21st Century.

As a result, considerable interest has been raised in energy consumption/conservation, emissions and inventory, “green” design, sustainability, environmental management, rehabilitation, and corporate responsibility. Government agencies, financial institutions, and even private corporations are adopting new policies and guidance as part of their project development and approval procedures. In this new arena, the work of assessing and managing “greenhouse gas” (GHG) emissions and potential climate change has become a component of environmental impact assessments, particularly for larger-scale projects such as mine development.

Even the United States, which has yet to ratify its signing of the Kyoto Protocol, has implemented guidance on incorporating the consideration of climate change in planning and National Environmental Policy Act documents. Agencies within the U.S. Department of the Interior, including the Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, and Fish & Wildlife Service, must now consider GHG emissions in the potential scale of projects, acknowledging the possible contributions of manmade pollutants to global climate change.

New regulations and standards for assessing GHG emissions need to be considered during project development. However, quantifying and projecting the impacts of GHG emissions is not a simple task, and definitive answers remain elusive. A number of carbon dioxide (CO2) and GHG emissions calculators are currently available online. One of the more common methods uses typical combustion product emission factors, which are based on test data for standardised equipment and operations. Another approach follows the Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHG Protocol), an international accounting tool issued by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) that provides step-by-step guidance for governments and businesses to quantify and thereby manage GHG emissions.

In one recent example of implementing these new policies and procedures, SRK (UK) calculated GHG emissions as part of an assessment of a new mining project in Greenland for one of its Canadian clients. For the project, SRK was required to quantify the emission of CO2 from equipment and facilities, and assess the calculated levels against thresholds established by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) under Performance Standard 3 for Pollution Prevention and Abatement to determine the likely increase to Greenland’s current emission levels. In the final assessment, this particular issue rated as the most significant impact because it appeared that the project could potentially increase Greenland’s GHG emissions by 35 percent over current estimates.

This conclusion, which is characterised by all of the uncertainty and variability in assessing global climate change, including factors such as population change, economic change, technological development and other aspects of future human activity, emphasises the need for a better understanding of the real impact of projects in global terms. SRK is poised to meet the challenges of assessing GHG emissions for our world-wide mining clients.

Mark Willow:

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