"The firm specializes in the dynamic field of sustainability law, focusing on environmental law, energy law, mining law and policy, and occupational and mine health and safety law."
Can you give an overview of Warburton Attorneys and the company’s history in the region?
After working in-house at Anglo American South Africa, I established Warburton Attorneys in 2000. From the outset the firm provided services to a wide range of mining companies. We also grew beyond mining and provide services across a wide range of sectors requiring environmental support. The firm specializes in the dynamic field of sustainability law, focusing on environmental law, energy law, mining law and policy, and occupational and mine health and safety law.
We are well-positioned to provide a full range of legal services and advice on sustainability-related legal issues to clients, whether for purposes of general compliance, risk assessment for a new development or project, for a specific commercial transaction or as a consequence of pending or current litigation. We aim to proactively assist our clients to achieve and maintain legal compliance and ensure that significant risks are avoided.
From a legal perspective, how are mining companies coping with ESG requirements and what is the most challenging aspect of the ESG framework?
Addressing climate change is a vital issue on the ESG agenda. The need to contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, combined with the lack of security of power supply that South Africa has experienced, have cumulatively propelled an increase in the momentum of renewable energy generation projects in the mining industry. The President’s recent announcement of an increase in the allowance for self-generated renewable power from 1MW to 100MW, without the need for a license, has been welcome and will have positive spinoffs for companies in their efforts to reduce carbon emissions.
In South Africa we also have enormous challenges relating to water scarcity. The impact of mining on water has to be carefully managed and controlled. Community issues are also a challenging aspect of ESG and are increasingly receiving more attention. We have seen more mobilized communities who are aware of their environmental rights and have the resources to pursue the enforcement of these rights. There is a lot of pressure being brought to bear on all industries, including mining, by communities insisting on the reduction of pollution and increased enforcement by regulators. There are requirements for a greater level of consultation on where certain developments take place and how they should be managed. However, there are many operations that have good relationships with surrounding communities, and some have been operating for so many years that the mine is integrated with the social and economic fabric of the area. Communities are making sure that their voices are heard, but there are some great success stories where coordination and collaboration have been achieved.
ESG challenges in South Africa have facilitated innovation, flexibility and resilience in the industry.
How would you characterize the overall health of the South African mining industry?
We are currently witnessing strong performance and returns from mining companies in South Africa at a time when the additional revenue is much needed by the government. The sector still makes a hugely beneficial contribution to the South African economy. However, there are parts of the industry that are facing their sunset years. It is regrettable that responses and decisions from the Department of Mineral Resources are frequently slow to emerge. New projects and closure applications have been plagued by cumbersome and time consuming regulatory processes, and unfortunately, the Covid pandemic has exacerbated the situation. There is a need for more efficient and effective administration by the department at a provincial level, with clear and consistent leadership from the national department.