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The head of mining giant BHP has laid out plans for a reshaping of its global operations by seeking to quit thermal coal mining, offload some coking coal mines and reduce its stake in oil and gas.

Repositioning the company for a lower-carbon future, BHP chief executive Mike Henry on Tuesday confirmed it was examining options to divest from its Mt Arthur mine in NSW and the Cerrejon project in Colombia, both of which mine thermal coal – the kind used in power stations. Mr. Henry surprised investors by adding that BHP also intended to exit the BHP-Mitsui Coal joint venture, which mines coking coal – used in steelmaking – in Queensland, and would also seek to find a buyer for its 50 per cent holding in the Gippsland Basin oil and gas fields off Victoria’s coast.

The announcements were made as BHP, the world’s biggest miner, revealed an underlying profit of $US9.1 billion ($12.6 billion) for the financial year on the back of sky-high prices for iron ore. But the profit fell short of analysts’ expectations of $US9.4 billion.

Thermal coal is the world’s most carbon-intensive energy source and the focus of rising investor pressure amid concerns surrounding its contribution to global warming. Rio Tinto, the nation’s second-largest miner, has already removed all exposure to thermal coal.

Mr Henry said BHP would seek to exit the thermal and coking coal assets through either a demerger or a trade sale, while retaining its holdings in higher-quality coking coal mines. BHP would seek to grow its exposure to “future-facing” commodities, primarily copper and nickel – ingredients Mr Henry said would be increasingly required in the manufacture of green-energy technologies.

BHP’s top earner, iron ore, accounted for 66 per cent of its full-year earnings. The price of the commodity has defied predictions it is overdue for a fall and has recently surged above $US120 a tonne amid robust demand from Chinese steel mills and softer output from other exporters such as Brazil’s Vale, which has faced COVID-19 disruptions. Elevated prices of iron ore, Australia’s most valuable export, have also provided a boost to the federal budget.