Fortescue Metals Group (ASX: FMG), the world’s fourth largest iron ore producer, became on Tuesday the first major miner to commit to achieving net zero scope 3 emissions, those produced by its customers including steel makers, by 2040.
The Australian miner put its closest rivals BHP, Rio Tinto and Vale under scrutiny earlier this year after announcing it had brought forward a self-imposed deadline of reaching net zero scope 1 and 2 emissions by 2030. That’s about two decades earlier than the other three iron ore producers.
Fortescue is seeking to move from being a major consumer of fossil fuel, with a current trajectory of more than 1 billion litres a year of diesel being used across the operations if no remedial action is taken, to a major clean and renewable energy exporter.
As part of that plan, it has also announced it aims to start producing green hydrogen as soon as 2023. The company is targeting the production of 15 million tonnes of green hydrogen a year by 2030, which will open up opportunities to work with customers and shipping partners on emissions reduction and elimination projects.
For now, the main customers FMG plans to work with are the one in the steelmaking sector, which account for 98% of the company’s scope 3 emissions.
To hit net-zero, the miner wants to reduce emission intensity levels from those customers by 7.5% by 2030.
Despite the commitment to eliminate emissions, FMG’s founder and main shareholder Andrew Forrester believes that the global goal of reaching “net zero” by 2050 – a pillar of the upcoming COP26 climate summit in Glasgow – is a “smokescreen.”
It suggests climate change could be solved by burying or offsetting carbon emissions, said Forrest, speaking on a panel at the Reuters Impact conference on Monday.
“The fossil fuel industry has lobbied hard… to get taxpayers to fund their attempt at a transition to ‘clean’ energy – on their timetable. But that’s a highway to climate disaster.”
Of the 60 million tonnes of hydrogen produced every year, 96% is still made from fossil fuels, Forrest noted. He added the solution to get to absolute zero emissions is green oxygen.
Mining magnate and Australia’s former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull launched last month a new body – the Green Hydrogen Organization – which will advocate for the country’s hydrogen industry to focus solely on green hydrogen produced from renewable sources.
Fortescue plans to use its own hydrogen from Fortescue Future Industries (FFI) to help transition its ore carrier fleet and help reduce or eliminate emissions in its partnerships.
The mining company will also use FFI’s hydrogen as it researches ways to produce iron ore and cement without the need for high temperatures and coal.
“Our work to decarbonise FMG’s iron ore operations will position Fortescue as the first major supplier of green iron ore in the world, paving the way for production of green iron and a new green steel industry,” FFI chief executive officer, Julie Shuttleworth, said in the statement.
Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility’s Director of Climate & Environment, Dan Gocher, said in an emailed statement that FMG’s announcement today was a “bold and welcome commitment.”
“FMG’s bold target overshadows the lack of ambition by BHP and Rio Tinto, whose absence of firm targets for steelmaking is looking increasingly lacklustre,” he said.
“BHP and Rio Tinto should be embarrassed by being outdone by a company they once referred to as a ‘junior miner’. It’s time for BHP and Rio Tinto to set binding targets for their scope 3 emissions, rather than simply funding research and working with their customers.”
Gocher believes that FMG’s news are “particularly humiliating” for BHP, given proxy advisors have recommended shareholders vote against the company’s climate transition plan at its upcoming annual general meetings. They are scheduled for October 14 in London and November 11 in Perth.