Protecting the environment

Protecting the environment

Environmental stewardship is essential to our relationships with host communities, regulators and others. We recognise that our environmental performance is important to our host communities and that we are responsible for managing impacts associated with our operations.

In planning and operating our assets, we seek to avoid, prevent, mitigate and remediate the environmental impacts of our activities. We work with our host communities and regulators to manage and monitor these and to comply with relevant regulations.

We work in accordance with the Rio Tinto management system standard as well as Group-wide and business-specific environmental standards and processes. We participate in industry reviews covering issues such as tailings management and water stewardship to share knowledge, learn from others and improve our management approaches.

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Society, and industry at large, faces the challenge of climate change – and the minerals and metals industry is one sector that needs to understand its contribution to both climate change cause and effect. We are studying how different climate change outcomes might impact our operations and the work we need to do to be resilient to those outcomes.

Joanne Farrell, Group executive, Health, Safety & Environment

Preparing for a low-carbon future

Climate change is one of the longer-term challenges we face as an industry, and we are taking a number of steps to respond.

We support the intent and aspirations of the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels. We are aiming for a substantial decarbonisation of our business by 2050 and are taking steps to manage risk, build resilience to climate change and develop our role in a low-carbon future.

Matthew Bateson, head of Environment and Legacy Management, discusses how our products help reduce our carbon footprint


decrease in our greenhouse gas emissions intensity since 2015

We’re improving our carbon footprint with a clear focus on energy efficiency. We’re building a series of carbon pricing scenarios to inform our decisions, including around capital expenditure. Our work is supported by our climate change position statement.

We believe our mineral and metal products have a role in a low-carbon future. For example, aluminium makes lighter vehicles that use less fuel per kilometre. The primary market for our borates is insulation, a cost-effective way to reduce energy use, and copper is the best non-precious conductor of heat and electricity, so copper containing items tend to be more efficient.

Read more about climate change

Responsible water management

For Rio Tinto, water is not solely about constrained supply and each of our operations has its own water context. While some operations are located in water-scarce environments, others must manage intense rainfall.

Most sites must manage the quality of water returned to the environment during operations and at closure. Our water management programme focuses on these site-specific risks and how we balance operational needs with those of local communities, Traditional Owners and regulatory requirements.

Managing tailings and structures

Tailings are residues created as part of mining, refining, smelting and water treatment processes. We operate tailings and large water storage facilities at 33 operations and also have closed impoundments that we continue to monitor at five sites. We review and audit operations to ensure that our practices comply with our Management of tailings and water storage facilities standard and are consistent with the principles in the International Council on Mining & Metals’ Tailings Governance Framework.

Minimising our biodiversity impacts

We work to avoid and minimise biodiversity loss and land disturbance, while improving our biodiversity management practices. Our approach, which has been well established over many years, is consistent with the Cross-sector Biodiversity Initiative’s guide for implementing the mitigation hierarchy of avoidance, minimisation, restoration, and offsets where appropriate.

Managing our day-to-day responsibilities

Our other environmental responsibilities include managing risks and impacts from air emissions and non-mineral waste. In these areas we aim to protect human health and the environment. We work with neighbouring communities to understand any impacts and further improve our practices. Also, as required by our CSP standard, each site has mechanisms to record and respond to complaints, disputes and grievances about issues including noise and dust.

Download the full
2016 Sustainable
development report

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