Assessing Climate Change Risk at the Kam Kotia Mine

In 2020, the Climate Risk Institute, with representatives from the Ontario Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry, undertook a Climate Change Risk Assessment for the Kam Kotia abandoned mine site located near Timmins, Ontario. The goal of this Assessment was to i) determine how climate impacts such as extreme weather events and precipitation variability may impact the Kam Kotia site, ii) inform future remediation work on the site, and iii) pilot a risk assessment framework for use in the screening-level assessment of climate risks related to abandoned or orphaned mine sites. The Kam Kotia mine site is a former copper and zinc mine that was abandoned in 1972 and has been subject to remediation since 2000. Many abandoned and orphaned mines across Canada, including the Kam Kotia mine, were built and operated without regulations to reduce potential environmental risks and without consideration of climate change. Climate change may exacerbate risks to abandoned and orphaned mines and to surrounding ecosystems and communities. Furthermore, current and future mining rehabilitation efforts may be ill-equipped without consideration of predicted climate impacts, including extreme weather events. A six-step Climate Change Risk Assessment of Kam Kotia analyzed multiple climate-related risk scenarios based on site-specific historical data trends, site vulnerabilities, and output data from an ensemble of climate models for the years 2050 and 2080. The risk assessment revealed six (6) scenarios were Class IV risks (requiring urgent intervention) under current conditions, ten (10) were Class IV risks under projections for 2050, and twelve (12) were Class IV risks under projections for 2080. The assessment identified opportunities for adaptation including knowledge and information sharing, bolstering remediation actions, and building management capacity. Results were used to inform the 2022 procurement for the Kam Kotia site.

Understanding and Assessing Impacts

Climate change may create or compound hazards from abandoned and orphaned mines like Kam Kotia. For example, a rapid snowmelt event in 2012 caused one of the tailings dams at Kam Kotia to breach, discharging contaminated water and sediment into the surrounding environment.

As part of the project “Assessing Climate Change Risks of Abandoned or Orphaned Mine Sites in Ontario, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories”, under a funding agreement with Natural Resources Canada, the Climate Risk Institute worked with staff at the Ontario Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry (MNDMNRF) to perform a Climate Change Risk Assessment on the Kam Kotia abandoned mine site.

The assessment sought to identify and analyze the impacts of climate change and subsequent risks to the Kam Kotia site and to inform future remediation and adaptation efforts. The assessment process was adapted from the Mining Association of Canada (MAC) framework and National Orphaned/Abandoned Mines Initiative guidance. It included six steps: project scoping, information gathering, vulnerability identification, risk ranking system, risk assessment, and adaptation and implementation. The assessment involved one meeting and three workshops over three months with collaboration from CRI and MNDMNRF representatives.

The assessment incorporated historical climate data for Timmins, ON between 1981 to 2010, future projections from an ensemble of climate models, uncertainties related to these projections, and statistics of weather conditions before and at the time of any past climate-related events that impacted the Kam Kotia site. Future projections were based on 19 climate parameters related to dry conditions, rain-on-snow, extreme precipitation, combined events, freeze-thaw cycles, groundwater conditions, and extreme winds. Climate data was largely gathered from the Climate Change Hazards Information Portal (CCHIP) and the RCP8.5 (high emissions) scenario was used to take a precautionary approach.

Identifying Actions

Prior to conducting the risk assessment, background information on the Kam Kotia site was gathered and reviewed including remediation history, monitoring data, and key infrastructure components of the mine site.

The first collaborative, virtual workshop outlined the project objectives, provided a climate science overview, and discussed the proposed risk assessment approach, focus and scope. The aim was to identify the objective of the assessment, geographic and temporal boundaries, the relationship of the assessment to the risk management of Kam Kotia, any inclusions or exclusions, and time constraints. This scoping activity also clarified the human, information, and financial resources required of the project, including the involvement of stakeholders. The information-gathering step of the assessment involved compiling data and resources related to climate, environment, asset/infrastructure, and regulatory and financial information. This phase also identified the need for individuals with intimate knowledge of the local climate and environmental conditions and operational knowledge of Kam Kotia site-specific details.

The vulnerability identification step of the assessment identified how climate conditions would interact with the mine site to influence vulnerability and subsequent risk. Risk scenarios were created for different climate hazards to show how they might interact with the mine site. Climate hazards based on 19 climate parameters were described for historical conditions and mean changes in climate model ensemble projections for the 2050s or 2080s. The 19 climate parameters were chosen based on a literature review of mining and climate change, known thresholds of impacts, and historical climate and extreme weather events as well as climate model data availability. Risk scenarios were presented at the second collaborative workshop approximately 2 weeks after the first workshop.


The next step, Risk Ranking, assigned likelihood ratings for each climate hazard/parameter and determined the severity of consequences for each scenario to determine overall risk. The risk ranking system was adapted from the National Orphaned/Abandoned Mines Initiative’s
Orphaned/Abandoned Mines: Risk Identification, Cost Estimation and Long-term Management report.

A likelihood rating (i.e., rare, unlikely, possible, likely, or almost certain) for each climate hazard and parameter was determined for historical conditions, and for projected future conditions in the 2050s, and 2080s. A consequence rating (i.e., very low, low, moderate, high, very high) was also assigned to each vulnerability scenario based on its impact to financial/socio-economic activity, physical damage, public health, and the environment. The risk ranking exercise was completed at the third collaborative workshop approximately 1 month after the second workshop.

The risk assessment phase combined the likelihood and consequence ratings to produce a climate risk matrix. From the climate risk matrix, four classes of risk were established:

  • Class I risk – risk is well below risk acceptance-intervention threshold, no intervention required at time of analysis
  • Class II risk – risk is close to or on risk acceptance-intervention threshold, active monitoring and/or further evaluation is required
  • Class III risk – risk exceeds risk acceptance-intervention threshold, active intervention is required
  • Class IV risk – risk significantly exceeds risk acceptance-intervention threshold, urgent intervention is required

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

The Climate Change Risk Assessment of the Kam Kotia mine site revealed that 6 scenarios were Class IV risks for current conditions, 10 were Class IV risks under projected conditions for the 2050s, and 12 were Class IV risks under projected conditions for the 2080s. The Class IV risks for current conditions primarily involved scenarios where the volume of water exceeded the capacity of Kam Kotia systems due to impacts such as extreme precipitation, rapid snowmelt, spring freshet, or rain-on-snow. These scenarios have the potential to damage critical components of the Kam Kotia site including dams and the water treatment plant.

Next Steps

Throughout the Climate Change Risk Assessment process and during the third collaborative workshop, opportunities for adaptation were identified, including improving information and knowledge, bolstering remedial actions, and building management capacity. As recommended by the National Orphaned/Abandoned Mines Initiative, a “Risk Library” that contains a record of past, current and future remediation, maintenance, and monitoring could be an important tool to understand which components of the mine require action or upgrades to proactively avoid a Class IV risk scenario. There are also opportunities to bolster current and future remediation such as frequent inspections of critical components of the mine site and ensuring remediation considers future site-specific climate changes. Finally, building capacity for those managing the Kam Kotia site will be crucial to preventing and mitigating climate-related risks. Building management capacity involves improving institutional memory among those that manage Kam Kotia through knowledge about past and present remediation activities, ongoing monitoring, and future maintenance. Building capacity could also include setting remediation targets or goals that consider climate change over time to better position future adaptation efforts.

Since this assessment, results were used to develop the 2022 procurement for Kam Kotia and a gap analysis was completed internally. The Ministry is actively working to incorporate considerations of climate change events into studies and long-term planning for Kam Kotia as well as other mine rehabilitation projects. There are also intentions to follow up on this assessment to identify any residual risk once new engineering and mitigation measures are developed. Risk assessments and adaptation strategies are generally iterative processes that should be reviewed frequently and updated as new information emerges or processes develop. There are always opportunities for a more detailed analysis of Kam Kotia and other abandoned/orphaned mines to identify and address emerging climate risks.