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A new era of climate and energy dawns

The Albanese Government’s Climate Change Bill 2022 passed the House of Representatives on August 4 and now goes to the Senate to be debated.

If the Senate ratifies the Bill, Australia will enter a new era in energy and climate that requires both Industry and government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

But how will this play out for regions like ours which rely very much on resource extraction?

How the Albanese Government balances emission reduction with Australia’s economic reliance on the mining industry should be carefully watched, particularly in relation to the social and environmental impacts of increased resource extraction and how that plays out for the Broken Hill area.

According to the latest June trade data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, total resources and energy exports were worth a record $414 billion last financial year, up 38 per cent from the previous 12 months.

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Iron ore accounted for $134 billion, down 12 per cent from the previous year.

The Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, Madeleine King, has recently congratulated Australia’s resource sector for posting another record year of exports and supporting Australia’s economy.

“Australia’s rich endowment of critical minerals and rare earths will help us and our global partners meet our global ambitions to reach net zero emissions by 2050,” Ms King said.

“The results are a tribute to more than a quarter of a million Australian workers in the resources industry, who have helped ensure Australia remains a stable and reliable supplier of resources and energy amidst the global turbulence caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and from the ongoing COVID pandemic,” she said.

Ms King said the data highlighted how Australia has become a world leader in the supply of critical minerals.

These figures also highlight our nation’s reliance on mining to support the Australian economy.

And there is a massive and growing demand for what are called ETMs – Energy Transition Metals – which are iron, copper, aluminium, nickel, lithium, cobalt, platinum, silver and rare earth metals used for renewable energy technologies.

As our nation moves toward zero emissions, the demand for minerals used in clean energy infrastructure will increase, and so will mining extraction of ETMs.

Australia has the world’s highest number of mining projects with 1070 mining properties, followed by Canada with 1068.

Unlike 70% of cobalt resources that are extracted in high-risk contexts throughout the world, good governance in Australia means as a nation, we have the capacity to develop and maintain safeguards against mining-related social and environmental impacts.

And that’s crucial because we are looking at a large new cobalt mine due to open soon just 25km from Broken Hill.

Broken Hill is a prime historical example of both the social and environmental impacts that can happen from earlier poorly regulated historical mining practices and when the life of a mine ends.

The residents of Broken Hill still live with the legacy of lead dust from historical mining practices and residents saw what happened to this City when it looked like mining employment would cease.

Both Broken Hill residents and the Broken Hill City Council (BHCC), to their credit, are creating diversified industries to support the city and mitigate the social impacts from mine closures.

Minister King said industry figures show the resources sector supports more than one million jobs directly and indirectly across Australia and paid more than $43 billion in company tax and royalties in 2020-21, supporting federal and state government spending on key services.

This is a relatively short time span in the life of a city and a just transition to renewables would require governments and the mining industry work together to ensure restorative plans are in place that mitigate the risks of long-term social and environmental damage after a mine ceases operations.

The mining industry could consider how they provide direct benefit, other than employment, to the cities and towns that support their operations.

One way might be to ensure the mining industry leaves a positive legacy.

For example, mining industry bodies could partner with the BHCC on a lead clean-up initiative in Broken Hill or might consider direct support for community land-related projects such as Landcare’s Greening the Hill or the Imperial Lakes project.

These projects can benefit the residents of Broken Hill in the future long after a mining operation has ceased.

It will be interesting to see what the Senate does with the Climate Change Bill 2022 in the coming weeks.

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