Mon, Aug 19, 2019 - Page 7 News List

South America’s glaciers might have a bigger problem than climate change

Rising temperatures and droughts are escalating the melting of Chile’s ice masses, but copper mining, which accounts for 10 percent of the nation’s GDP and more than half its exports, is the biggest threat

By Laura Millan Lombrana  /  Bloomberg

Mining itself is water intensive since it’s needed in each step to produce copper, with usage forecast to rise.

Almost every large mining company operating in Chile has impacted glaciers, including Anglo American PLC at its Los Bronces mine and Antofagasta PLC at Los Pelambres, according to the paper.

Anglo American’s Los Bronces operation and Codelco’s Andina mine are exploiting the world’s largest copper deposit in the Andes, about 64km from Santiago.

Only a rock ridge separates them from the Olivares Alfa glacier.

The two giant pits, the mining trucks and dust from the explosions are clearly visible from a helicopter.

With both companies planning new billion-dollar projects to maintain production at current levels, alarm bells have been set off among environmentalists, who say that mining is hastening the process of desertification.

It is a charge miners reject. Joaquin Villarino, the president of industry group, Mining Council, has said that glaciers are shrinking because of climate change, and that pollution from transport and other industrial activities in Santiago are also having an impact.

The glacier bill contains “serious errors,” he said.

All the same, miners are taking action. While Codelco is doing early engineering work on an expansion of its open-cast Andina mine, its sister mine, Los Bronces, is to go partly underground in a US$3 billion plan to avoid impact on the surface.

Owner Anglo American “acknowledges the importance of glaciers and has the conviction that mining activity and the preservation of the environment can coexist,” the company said in an e-mailed response to questions.

Codelco declined to comment on its plans for Andina.

Pinera’s administration is going on the offensive. Approval of the glacier bill would force four mines, including Andina and Los Bronces, to halt operations, costing billions of dollars and more than 34,500 jobs, according to a report by the government’s copper commission Cochilco.

Copper output would fall by 11 percent through 2030, impacting global metals markets, it said.

Casassa sees the impact of climate change accelerating, but shares the government’s assessment that there is no need for specific glacier legislation.

However, the government might be powerless to stop the bill, since it lacks a majority in either chamber of parliament.

Girardi says it could clear both the Senate and Chamber of Deputies by early next year, an outcome he sees as of global significance.

“All the changes we are seeing, all the climate catastrophes across the world are just the beginning,” Girardi said. “Chile’s glaciers are strategic, not just for our country, but for all humanity.”

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