Glencore slams BP’s net-zero target as it outlines measures to cap coal use

Pictured: Glencore's Ferrochrome smelter in Lydenburg

Ivan Glasenberg, who heads up the Swiss mining firm, announced on Wednesday (18 February) a new projection to reduce its overall carbon footprint by 30% over the next 15 years.

Glasenberg did not provide any time-bound numerical targets for the cap, saying instead that Glencore would operate in line with the “natural depletion” of coal at its existing mines in Australia and Colombia rather than bluntly closing them.

“As we rebalance our portfolio towards commodities supporting the transition to a low-carbon economy, we expect the intensity of our scope 3 emissions to decrease,” a statement from Glencore said. 

As it produces less coal, the firm will begin producing more of the metals and minerals used to make electric vehicle (EV) batteries, including zinc, cobalt, copper and nickel. While the production of these materials is lower-carbon and their use will help to decarbonise the transport sector, sustainability challenges persist around resource efficiency and human rights abuses in supply chains.

Glencore’s latest annual report, unveiled at the same meeting on Wednesday, revealed that the firm recorded a $404m (£313m) net loss in 2019. This was largely due to $2.8bn (£2.16bn) in impairment charges, largely driven by a need to write down the value of its Colombian coal assets.

Recent research found that the number of insurance firms withdrawing cover for coal companies and assets has more than doubled between 2018 and 2019, as national green policies were bolstered and citizen climate protests grew in size and frequency on a global basis.

Paris or bust?

Glasenberg was, as expected, quizzed at Wednesday’s meeting around Glencore’s decision not to set Paris-aligned, public-facing, long-term targets.

Glasenberg also said Glencore would begin publishing full carbon footprint reports on an annual basis, starting in April 2020. The firm currently does not calculate its Scope 3 (indirect) emissions, including emissions produced when the coal it sells is burned by third parties. Once this data is collected and reported, Glencore has pledged to develop an investor-facing roadmap outlining how it plans to align with the Paris Agreement trajectory.

According to the IPCC, meeting the Paris Agreement’s more ambitious 1.5C trajectory will require global emissions to reach net-zero by 2050 at the latest.

Several fossil fuel firms have announced net-zero targets for, or ahead of, 2050, including Eni and BP. Glasenberg said Glencore had not followed suit because he believed these targets to be “wishy-washy” due to their long-termism and lack of supporting roadmaps. 

He said: “You can come out with many statements. You want to be carbon-neutral by 2050. How are you getting there? How are you going to do it? Very hard to say. It’s a long way out.”

Surprisingly, his sentiments echo those voiced by green campaigners, who have criticised BP for failing to disclose how it would meet its 2050 aim without relying heavily on carbon offsetting – and its decision not to include Scope 3 emissions, which account for the largest proportion of its overall carbon footprint, in the aim.

But campaign groups are ultimately calling on firms like BP and Glencore to degrow, or else fully exit the fossil fuel sector, as Orsted has since it rebranded from DONG in 2017.

Sky’s business presenter Ian King, for example, has said Glencore’s decision to produce coal in any capacity was at odds with the Paris Agreement.

Sarah George

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