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Norilsk Nickel sets its ESG priorities

12 july 2021

Norilsk Nickel, one of the major producers of metals required for the transition to a “green economy”, has published its 2020 Sustainability Report. Its key parts are the environmental program and the interaction with the indigenous minorities of the North. The focus on these issues stems from both the environmental challenges faced by the company last year and the upcoming introduction of a carbon tax in the EU.

While implementing its $3.6 bn environmental Sulfur Programme 2.0 aimed at reducing sulfur dioxide emissions by 95%, the company does not yet set ultimate targets for achieving carbon neutrality. This is due to the current lack of technological solutions for decarbonization. Without waiting for technological breakthroughs, Norilsk Nickel started taking concrete steps in this area. In the summer of this year, the company began producing batches of low-carbon nickel; active work is underway to replace petroleum products with alternative power sources.

ECOLOGY

In 2020, Norilsk Nickel developed its new Integrated Environmental Strategy, approved by the company’s board of directors in June this year. It defines the key areas in environmental protection and sets the targets the company expects to achieve by 2030.

The strategy covers six main areas of environmental impact: climate change, air, water resources, tailings and waste management, land rehabilitation, and ensuring biodiversity.

THE CLIMATE CHANGE

The goal of Norilsk Nickel is to increase the production of metals required for the transition to a “green” economy around the world while keeping greenhouse gas emissions at the level considered minimal in the mining and metallurgical industry.

Norilsk Nickel currently has the lowest carbon dioxide emissions among the global mining companies. In particular, the level of direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions from Norilsk Nickel is on average 38% lower than that of comparable international companies such as Anglo American, BHP Billiton, Vale, Rio Tinto, Freeport. In the future, the company expects to maintain its position in the first quartile of the global nickel industry in terms of specific greenhouse gas emissions per one tonne of Ni-equivalent.

Norilsk Nickel plans to limit the volume of absolute production greenhouse gas emissions (Scope 1 + 2) to about 10 mn tonnes of CO2-equivalent by 2030. This is slightly lower than the current figure, but taking into account a 30-40% increase in production by this time, it implies a significant reduction in the emission level. Year-on-year emissions will decline by 1.7%.

At the end of 2020, direct “greenhouse” gas emissions (Scope 1) decreased by 298,900 tonnes (-4.09%) of CO2-equivalent compared to 2019. The reduction in emissions was mainly due to the energy sector, metallurgical production (closure of the smelting shop of the Kola Mining and Metallurgical Company), air transportation, and cement production. The air emissions are assessed on the basis of the requirements of the GHG (Greenhouse gas) Protocol Corporate Accounting and Reporting Standard.

An important factor in combating climate change is the use of renewable sources. At present, 46% of the electrical power consumed by the Norilsk Nickel group is generated using renewable sources, this share reaches 55% in the Norilsk industrial area. The Ust-Khantayskaya Hydropower Plant (HPP) and the Kureyskaya HPP that belong to AO Norilsk-Taimyr Energy Company (NTEС) generate the electrical power using renewable sources. The use of other renewable energy sources is limited by geographic factors such as a long polar night and harsh climate leading to the failures of wind generation facilities.

The Norilsk Nickel’s investment programme envisages the implementation of several large projects to increase the volume of hydropower generation, as well as to save fuel and energy resources and improve the reliability of energy and gas supply.

For example, it is planned to build a 5 to 50 MW solar power plant at the Bystrinsky Mining and Processing Plant, which will meet about 20% of the plant’s needs.

AIR

Another area is protecting the environment and public health from air pollutants. The total capital investments in this area are estimated at $3.6 bn.

The main initiative in doing this is the Sulfur Programme 2.0. It is aimed at a step-by-step movement towards the best world practice in SO2 emission utilization and the formation of environmentally friendly production.

Its implementation in the Norilsk industrial region provides for a 45% reduction in sulfur dioxide emissions by 2023 and a 90% reduction by 2025. The gas utilization projects are being implemented at the largest metallurgical sites of the Norilsk industrial area such as the Nadezhda Metallurgical Plant and the Copper Plant. In 2023, it is planned to launch a project for the utilization of furnace gases at the Nadezhda Metallurgical Plant, which will lead to a 45% reduction in SO2 emissions in the Norilsk industrial district. At the same time, some facilities are under construction to neutralize sulfuric acid using limestone and to produce gypsum. At the Copper Plant, Sulfur Programme 2.0 for the utilization of furnace and converter waste gases will be launched in 2025 ensuring a 90% reduction in SO2 emissions. After 2030, Norilsk Nickel will start the utilization of lean SO2 gases, its goal is to reduce the emissions by 95%.

The implementation of Sulfur Programme 2.0 at the Kola MMC provides for the closure of the outdated smelting shop in the village of Nikel (the shop was shut down in December 2020), as well as the copper refining facilities in Monchegorsk (shut down in April 2021). Due to the closure of the smelter in Nikel, the company reduced its sulfur dioxide emissions in Nikel and the town of Zapolyarny by 71% in 2020. By 2021, the emissions are expected to be 85% lower at the Kola MMC compared to 2015.

Norilsk Nickel is also introducing an atmospheric air quality monitoring system to assess and ensure its cleanliness, as well as to take measures to reduce dust emissions from its mining operations.

“By the end of this year, 20 air monitoring units will be launched in Norilsk so that every resident of the city could find out any time - through a mobile application - what substances are in the atmosphere and what is their quantity,” commented Andrey Bugrov, senior vice president of Norilsk Nickel for sustainable development.

Now Norilsk Nickel’s nitrogen oxide emissions are 80% lower than those of its competitors in the global mining industry, and its particulate emissions are lower by 65%.

WATER RESOURCES

Norilsk Nickel focuses on the responsible and rational use of water resources, as well as on the reduced pollution levels and stable supply of clean drinking water to the local residents.

The share of reused water in the total amount of water used by Norilsk Nickel enterprises in 2020 is 86.4%. This is mainly water from the surface and groundwater bodies, as well as recycled water from other organizations’ waste effluents and the water coming due to natural water inflow. In 2020, the natural water inflow and meltwater accounted for 12% of the total water intake.

Norilsk Nickel’s water utilization figures are significantly better than those of the comparable companies in the industry. In particular, the total water intake is 51% lower, the total water consumption is 14% lower, and the water reuse factor is 1.5 times higher.

In the field of water resources protection, the company does the following work:

- ensuring the smooth operation of water treatment facilities;

- upgrading the systems for monitoring and control of water resources to increase the safety level of hydraulic structures, as well as to ensure the drinking water treatment;

- search for “green” solutions and interaction with the scientific community and organizations to achieve these goals.

The budget for this work is $1.1 bn.

WASTE AND TAILings MANAGEMENT

The priority tasks of Norilsk Nickel include minimizing the impact of industrial waste on the environment, efficient waste management, identifying alternative uses for non-recyclable waste, introducing the principles of responsible sourcing, and ensuring the safe tailings dump operation.

In this sphere, Norilsk Nickel plans to introduce an international industry standard on tailings management, as well as to apply technically and economically sound principles of the efficient use of resources and pollution prevention to eliminate or, if not possible, to minimize the negative impact of waste from the company’s activities on the human health and environment.

The budget for these efforts is $0.6 bn.

LAND RESOURCES

Norilsk Nickel moves forward in reclaiming the land affected by construction, mining, and emissions, and regularly reviews and, if necessary, updates its plans to shut down factories and mines.

The projects for the development of deposits, elimination of mines, and rehabilitation of land have been developed by the company for all the deposits it develops. The projects provide for technical measures like planning, the formation of slopes, the construction of hydraulic and reclamation structures, and other works. The fields being developed by the company are actively operated, they are expected to be liquidated or put on care and maintenance in 2050.

In 2020, the company in cooperation with ANO Ecoterra worked out a comprehensive programme for the rehabilitation of the land affected by the oil spill in the area of Thermal Power Plant (TPP)-3. To implement the programme, the best available technological solutions will be used. The result of the land rehabilitation will be the restoration of land to bring it to a state meeting the requirements of the RF legislation.

In the next ten years, Norilsk Nickel plans to complete the clean-up and land rehabilitation in the Norilsk area. The goal is to remove unused and demolished objects. To do this, the company intends to create a new specialized unit for cleaning up the land and subsequent land reclamation, as well as to purchase specialized equipment to increase the efficiency of cleaning up.

The budget for activities in the field of land resources is $0.3 bn.

The total land disturbed at Norilsk Nickel is 90% less than that of the comparable mining companies.

CONSERVATION OF the BIODIVERSITY

Nornickel understands the importance of environmental protection and preserving biodiversity and strives to minimize the possible impact on biological resources due to its industrial activity.

The Pasvik (15 km) and Laplandsky (10 km) reserves are located relatively close to the production sites of the Kola MMC, and the Putoransky reserve buffer zone is close (80-100 km) to the Nornickel’s Polar Division sites. Bystrinsky Mining and Processing Plant is located 160 km from the Relic Oaks regional reserve in the Trans-Baikal Territory. In 2020, Norilsk Nickel’s production facilities did not have a significant impact on the areas located relatively close to the reserves, and on the areas with highly valuable biodiversity outside the boundaries of the protected natural areas.

To preserve the unique Arctic nature, the company has been supporting nature reserves for over ten years. The support includes the development of the reserves’ scientific and technical base, as well as the support for public, volunteer, and educational environmental programs. Nornickel supports the programmes of the country’s reserves in their study and conservation of rare and endangered species of animals listed in the Red Book of Russia, including the bighorn sheep, polar bear, and lesser white-fronted goose.

A special line of activities is the reproduction of aquatic biological resources. Every year Norilsk Nickel finances the work aimed at incubation and subsequent release of valuable baby fishes into water bodies for their reproduction. In 2020, 136,000 two-month-old grayling fry were planted in the Yenisei River. Over the past four years, as a result of work done annually, the local population of grayling and sturgeon has increased by more than a million individuals. In 2021, it is planned to continue this work.

Great NORILSK EXPEDITION 1 and 2

The implementation of the environmental strategy is directly related to systemic scientific research, says Andrey Grachyov, vice president for federal and regional programmes at Norilsk Nickel.

In July 2020, on the initiative of Norilsk Nickel, the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences organized the Great Norilsk Expedition. Its task was to investigate the causes and consequences of the incident at TPP-3 in Norilsk and to begin a large-scale and comprehensive study of the Taimyr’s ecosystems and climatic changes in recent decades.

During the field stage of the expedition in the Norilsk industrial area and in Taimyr, about two thousand samples of water, soil, bottom sediments, living organisms were taken, and instrumental measurements of permafrost soils were carried out. The company uses the conclusions and recommendations made by the expedition for the rational water resources management and reclamation measures required due to the oil spill in May last year.

“The results of the Great Norilsk Expedition, which became the first large-scale study in the Arctic zone of Russia since the USSR times, make it possible to answer three important questions - to understand the level of pollution after the fuel spill, as well as to find the best methods for cleaning up the areas, and to develop new principles of the Arctic zone management”, said Andrey Grachyov.

In the summer of 2021, Norilsk Nickel announced Stage 2 of the Great Norilsk Expedition.

This stage includes the landscape, soil, botanical researches, the study of the thawing permafrost soil deformation rate based on radar satellite mapping. Soil scientists, biologists, zoologists, and specialists in geocryology will again take part in the research.

“Why do we do all this? The answer is simple: the Norilsk Nickel’s scale and strategic prospects require comprehensive studies of the Arctic zone, and vice versa, the results of these studies provide an impetus for the development of our company,” explained Andrey Grachyov.

One of the tasks of Stage 2 of the Great Norilsk Expedition is assessing the possibility of repeated pollution in the event of a flood and taking in consideration all the risks. Stage 2 includes the study of soil, plants, and bottom sediments prior to the soil reclamation. And Stage 3 planned to be launched in the autumn includes the assessment of the effectiveness of the rehabilitation of soil.

COOPERATION WITH THE INDIGENOUS MINORITIES OF THE NORTH

At present, in Taimyr, near the region where the company operates, over 10,000 people of the indigenous minorities of the North live Nenets, Dolgans, Nganasans, Evenks, and Enets. Nornickel respects the rights, human environment, traditional culture, and economic activities, as well as the historical heritage and interests of the indigenous peoples, and is committed to strengthening good neighbourly relations. Over the past decades, the company has been implementing charity and social projects aimed at improving the life quality of the indigenous peoples in Taimyr.

Last year, Norilsk Nickel signed a five-year agreement on the implementation of its comprehensive plan to assist the development of the indigenous minorities of the North for a total amount of 2 bn roubles. In 2020, about 85 mn roubles of this sum were allocated to support the projects. This programme includes supporting the traditional activities, protecting the original human environment, as well as funding for housing, health care, infrastructure, tourist social and cultural projects. The list of these projects was made with the direct participation of the local communities.

In total, this programme includes 42 projects and covers as follows:

- supporting the traditional activities;

- housing construction;

- construction of new first aid stations, purchase of special equipment;

- supporting the educational projects, construction of the House of Culture;

- construction of playgrounds for children, purchase of sports equipment;

- tourist projects.

The peculiar feature of this programme is that it is based entirely on the wishes and proposals of the indigenous minorities of the North, explained Andrey Grachyov. Based on the results of a main ethnic groups’ opinion survey, Norilsk Nickel focused on the most popular support measures. These include the creation of traditional seasonal jobs and work to stock the Pyasina River with fish and restore the wild reindeer population.

Norilsk Nickel also holds grant competitions as part of the World of New Opportunities charity programme. The grant support is aimed at preserving long-term traditions and practices and at developing the region. Its winners are tribal communities, non-profit and budgetary organizations. This year, the grant fund amounted to 46 mn roubles. The company supports 28 socially useful initiatives that will be implemented in 2021-2022. The initiatives are aimed at solving a variety of social issues, such as the revival of national languages, the creation of ecological culture and holding the environmental campaigns, the development of infrastructure in the villages of the Taimyr Peninsula, the preservation of historical heritage, etc.

ECOTOURISM

The importance of ecotourism is explained by the growing interest in the destinations - previously unpopular - to remote regions and also by its importance for the preservation of the Arctic natural resources. In 2020, the Norilsk Development Agency completed the development of the first stage of the master plan for the Arctic tourism cluster, which includes the areas of Norilsk and Dudinka. Private investors are ready to invest 4.3 bn roubles in the projects in the cluster. The investments will be used for infrastructure development. At the end of last year, the tourist flow exceeded 5,000 people (an increase of 4% compared to 2019), and for the first time, an agreement was concluded on the sale of tours in Khatanga to regional tour operators. As a result of a joint expedition with WWF representatives to Pronchishcheva Bay, some promising tourist attractions are being developed.

Another project, the Zatundra tourist cluster, is financed directly by Norilsk Nickel, the investments will amount to 20 bn roubles. Under the project, the necessary tourist infrastructure will be created for the development of nature tourism in the basalt Putorana Plateau, one of the most interesting and difficult to access places in Siberia. Under the project, up to 50,000 people will visit it annually.

ENVIRONMENTAL PRACTICES OF MINING AND METALLURGICAL COMPANIES. CLIMATE-RELATED TARGETS

BHP

- At present, its greenhouse gas emissions are 8% higher than in 2017. By 2022, its production emissions (Scope 1 and 2) should be reduced to the 2017 levels and below, taking into account the expansion of the business. The medium-term goal is to reduce the production-related greenhouse gas emissions at least by 30% by 2030. The long-term goal is zero emissions by 2050;

- The strategy of offsetting emissions involves the acquisition of carbon offsets, which will help achieve the targets by 2022;

- The Climate Investment Programme announced in 2019 involves investing $400 mn in the projects aimed at reducing the emissions in production and along the entire value chain;

- Five-year water use targets. Freshwater intakes in FY2020 were 19% below the 2017 baseline, they surpassed the 15% target.

- Transition to 100% renewable energy sources at Escondida and Spence is scheduled by the mid-2020s.

ANGLO AMERICAN

- The original plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 22% (compared to 2016) in 2020 was in fact by 34%. The goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030. It is expected to achieve the carbon neutrality at eight key assets by 2030, and at all production facilities by 2040;

- A 30% increase in energy efficiency is planned by 2030. In 2020, energy consumption decreased by 8%.

- There is a commitment to reduce emissions (Scope 3), in particular in the logistics of goods, which is expected to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050;

- Growth in the share of renewable energy sources up to 100% at the assets in Chile is expected from 2021, and in Brazil from 2022 (from 85%). For the company as a whole, the renewable sources now account for about 15% of the company’s total energy production. To increase this share, the company’s own renewable energy generation capacities are considered among other things. The implementation of low-carbon operating solutions is planned that include the production and use of hydrogen, and an electrolysis cell project was launched at the Mogalakwena mine;

- The goal of saving water consumption in 2020 was not achieved: the reduction was 10% instead of 20% planned. They expect to reduce water intake by 50% by 2030, and to increase the share of recycled water supply to 75%;

- The strategy is used to achieve a net positive impact (NPI) on the biodiversity by 2030 in the regions where the company operates.

RIO TINTO

- Climate-related targets. It is planned to reduce the absolute emissions by 15% by 2030 and emission intensity by 30% compared to 2018. Long-term goal is achieving zero emissions at all enterprises by 2050. The management remuneration depends on achieving the goals. In 2020, the emissions were unchanged compared to 2019, and have decreased by 3% since 2018. The company expects the process to accelerate towards the end of the 2020s, as the needed technology is better developed and implemented.

- Plans to create a low-carbon chain in the final link, steel production. Together with major clients, such as China Baowu Steel, Tsinghua and Nippon Steel, the targets (Scope 3) have been set.

- The expenditures on the projects related to combating the climate change are estimated at $1 bn for 2020-24, including $140 mn in 2020.

- Today, 75% of the electricity used by businesses directly managed by the company comes from renewable power sources. In 2020, the company began its transition to the renewable energy in Pilbara, Western Australia, where a solar power plant is under construction.

- In 2020, water use decreased by 5% compared to 2019, while the share of fresh water in water intake volume decreased from 39%, compared to 66% a year earlier.

- Implementing the policy of the fastest possible rehabilitation of land resources, the company began to prepare the reclamation of the Argyle diamond mine area, where production ceased at the end of 2020. The land will be returned to the local communities, and the collection of seeds for planting in this area started together with the locals. The company is developing the innovative solutions to the problem of the reclamation of dumps and land affected by mining activities.

- In the ​biodiversity conservation, the benchmark is “no net loss”, that is, the balance between negative impacts and positive results through mitigating the impact. For example, the company is monitoring the population of rare turtles whose regular breeding grounds are located near Cape Lambert in the Pilbara area. In Madagascar, the company has established three nature conservation areas around its QIT Madagascar Minerals site to help protect the habitats of unique plants and animals, such as lemurs, under the control of local communities.

- In the waste management, the company does its best to minimize the impact by increasing the recycling and reusing the waste rock, slag, and tailings. For example, at the Oyu Tolgoi mine in Mongolia, up to 50% of wastes are recycled, which both reduces their storage and also stimulates higher local employment. A high lithium content has been found in the waste rock from the borate mining in the Mojave Desert (USA), and they are going to extract it by converting waste that used to be disposed earlier. In 2020, the company reused or recycled about 357,000 tonnes of non-mineral waste and almost 14 mn tonnes of mineral waste.

VALE

- Climate-related targets. The company focuses on reducing its carbon footprint (Scope 1 + 2) by 33% by 2030 compared to 2017. In 2019, emissions (Scope 1 and 2) were 12.6 mn tonnes CO2. The emissions along the entire value chain (Scope 3) are planned to be reduced by 15% by 2035 (in 2018, they amounted to 586 mn tonnes of CO2 equivalent). Once these goals are met, the company will assess whether it can reduce the remaining emissions by purchasing carbon credits. The long-term goal is carbon neutrality by 2050. The company will spend $2 bn on its projects to reduce emissions over the next 10 years.

- In power generation, the company plans to switch to fully self-sufficient power generation in Brazil by 2025, and use only renewable energy sources by 2030. With the launch of the Folha Larga Wind Project in the Brazilian state of Bahia, wind energy will increase its share in the company’s portfolio to 9%. There is an active replacement of diesel fuel with renewable energy sources in transport and production facilities.

- The implementation of a self-dependent iron ore transportation system is planned at the Brucutu mine. This initiative is of great importance in reducing the carbon dioxide and particulate matter emissions, given that self-driving trucks transporting ore consume less fuel.

- The development in artificial intelligence is underway that will optimize the operation of trucks and provide the required speed with minimal fuel consumption. The technological solution was tested at its assets in Brazil, which saved 585,000 litres of diesel fuel and prevented 1,500 tonnes of CO2 emissions, which is the equivalent of planting 2,000 trees.

- In environmental protection, the company has committed itself to protecting 8,500 sq. km - this area is more than 5 times the total area occupied by the company’s enterprises. The nature reserves are made in part of this area belonging to the company.

- As part of the National Plan for Recovery of Native Vegetation and to ensure the implementation of the Paris Agreement, the company has pledged to restore 100,000 hectares of degraded areas by 2030. The Vale Nature Reserve (Reserva Natural Vale) in Linharis encompasses 23,000 hectares of continuous Atlantic forest that is of major importance for the biodiversity conservation and research. The company also protects a tropical forest in the state of Pará, it helps to combat global warming and prevents greenhouse gas emissions from the forest degradation.

- Established in 2009, the Vale Fund has committed approximately BRL 120 mn to finance 54 programmes aimed at the conservation and sustainable use of the Amazon.

In addition, in May 2021, BHP, Rio Tinto, and Vale partnered with an Australian industry organization Austmine to launch the Charge On Innovation Challenge. It is a global competition for technology innovators to develop new concepts for the electrification of heavy-lift dump trucks. The mining industry needs technological solutions for fast charging of heavy-lift vehicles, which is impossible with the existing chargers’ capabilities, the initiators explained. The goal is to significantly reduce emissions from open-pit mines, improve safety and improve productivity.

Igor Leikin for Rough&Polished