The Minerals Council has announced it will develop a “climate action plan” amid increasing pressure on its biggest members, BHP and Rio Tinto, to quit the industry body over its position on global heating.
In a statement posted on the Minerals Council website this week, the chief executive, Tania Constable, said the plan would be released next year and would “support strong and innovative action by Australia’s world-leading minerals sector to address human-induced climate change.
“A thriving minerals sector focused on effective and pragmatic climate action is essential to mobilise the solutions required to address climate change,” she said.
The plan is to include preparing members for life in an economy consistent with the Paris agreement, which is designed to limit global heating to less than 2C, and reducing the emissions of member companies by using renewable power on mine sites and developing carbon sequestration technology.
However, it does not appear to include consideration of the “scope 3” emissions made by customers of mining companies, putting it at odds with BHP, which has pledged to tackle these emissions as part of efforts to tackle global heating.
The plan was immediately dismissed by activist investor group Market Forces, which said it appeared be an effort to play for more time.
“The Minerals Council wants to make it look like a change of direction but the pressure has been rightly building and a leopard doesn’t change its spots,” the Market Forces executive director, Julien Vincent, said.
A Minerals Council spokesman said the plan was the result of the work of its energy and climate change committee that “predates recent media stories”.
Pressure on BHP to leave the council intensified on Wednesday night when one of the miner’s biggest shareholders, Standard Life Aberdeen, said that at next week’s annual meeting it would vote in favour of a shareholder resolution demanding the company quit lobby groups that have positions inconsistent with the Paris agreement.
“We think BHP has done many leading things in regard to climate change management,” Standard Life Aberdeen’s environmental, social and governance stewardship director, Bill Stewart, told the Financial Times.
“But these have been undermined by its association and funding of certain lobby groups.”
Stewart did not specifically name the Minerals Council but in recent weeks it has emerged as a central target of investor anger over global heating.
Last week Australia’s biggest superannuation fund, the $170bn AustralianSuper, blasted the council’s existing climate position, which supports the Paris agreement, as inadequate and demanded the group develop a more detailed plan.
The call came as the global Climate Action 100+ group of investors, which includes Aussie Super and in total controls more than $35tn in assets, said it would be targeting companies over their membership of industry organisations that have policies inconsistent with their stated positions on the climate crisis.
In response to investor pressure, BHP is currently reviewing its membership of all industry bodies, including the Minerals Council.
Both BHP and Rio Tinto have previously come close to leaving the Minerals Council, but have so far remained in the organisation after it softened its position.
However, Rio Tinto is also likely to face increased scrutiny in the runup to its annual shareholder meetings, which are usually held in April and May.
The Investor Group on Climate Change, which represents Australian investors controlling about $2tn, declined to comment on the Minerals Council’s new position.
The group’s policy director, Erwin Jackson, told Guardian Australia that investors expected companies to ensure their resources weren’t used to support groups that undermined the objectives of the Paris agreement.
“Many participants in the climate policy debate say they support the Paris agreement,” he said.
“The real test of this commitment is whether they support achieving net zero emissions by 2050, whether they encourage governments to update their 2030 targets to be in line with limiting warming to [between] 1.5C [and] well below 2C, and ensuring national targets achieve the highest possible level of ambition.”