"The mining sector is the backbone of the transition to a net zero emissions economy. The World Bank estimates that there will be a 500% growth in the demand for critical minerals, which are required for this transition."

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Rohitesh Dhawan

CEO, INTERNATIONAL COUNCIL ON MINING & METALS (ICMM)

August 06, 2021

What role can the mining industry play in the transition to a net zero emissions economy?

The mining sector is the backbone of the transition to a net zero emissions economy. The World Bank estimates that there will be a 500% growth in the demand for critical minerals, which are required for this transition. On an individual commodity basis, the demand for cobalt is estimated to increase x20 between now and 2040. As an example of the importance of the mining sector, if the UK was to convert all its petrol and diesel cars to electric cars today, this would take up twice the annual global production of cobalt. Therefore, mining will be a fundamental pillar of vehicle electrification, and for the production of other important elements to reach carbon neutrality such as solar panels or wind turbines.

The way these minerals are produced is also important. In the past, mineral production contributed 4-7% of global greenhouse emissions, and if we are all to play our role in keeping below the carbon budget, we cannot afford to have excessive carbon emissions from mineral production.

The ICMM is working on both sides of the equation: we are studying how the industry can supply the metals and minerals required for the low carbon transition and analyzing how to do this generating the fewest possible greenhouse emissions. Several mining companies have successfully transitioned to 100% renewable energy, such as Anglo American in several parts of their operations. The Escondida Mine is also well on track to achieve 100% renewable energy.

What are the ICMM’s current priorities?

We are currently in the last six months of our three-year strategy cycle. The main priority is to continue enabling the global industry to take up the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management. Towards that end, we recently launched the Tailings Management Good Practice Guide as well as the Conformance Protocols for the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management. We are shifting gears on tailings, and we will continue working on this as part of our next strategy cycle. Our ambitious goal is to find solutions that will significantly reduce or eliminate tailings in the first place.

There are two other areas we are currently working on as part of this three-year cycle, but we will continue developing in the next strategy cycle. One of them involves our skills initiative, which is a 15-year plan to equip communities with the skills they need to thrive, no matter what mining looks like in the future. The second one involves a long-term project of Innovation for Cleaner, Safer Vehicles (ICSV), designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from mobile equipment on the mine site, to reduce the impact of diesel fumes on operators, and to reduce fatalities and injuries caused by the interaction between workers and mobile equipment. This year, we will also work in areas related to climate change and biodiversity, which are particularly relevant as the COP is taking place.

How do you think the mining industry could reduce social conflicts?

While issues between mines and host communities vary greatly, we are learning that the earlier and deeper social experts are engaged in the process of mine planning and design and at every stage of operations, the greater the chance is of having a positive relationship. Last year, the pandemic forced mining companies, governments, and host communities to think deeply about the kind of relationships we want to have in the future and showed that when we work together, especially in times of crisis, we can achieve important outcomes. There are numerous examples of how several communities in mining towns relied on the mine infrastructure to receive healthcare, supplies of personal protective equipment, and a support structure during lockdown.

In fact, we codified the lessons that we learned from Covid-19 in the Building Forward Better Framework – a practical tool for mining and other companies, to assess their own activities through examples, case-studies and resources. Working with partners including The Partnering Initiative and Business Fights Poverty,  we hope to foster closer collaboration and engagement beyond the mining sector to help drive real change. 

In summary, what is your vision for the mining industry in the coming years from a sustainability standpoint?

We should strive for a safe, just, and sustainable society, made possible by responsibly produced minerals and metals. The mining industry, especially in developing parts of the world, is an extremely important actor. If it is used to its greatest potential, it can unlock a huge amount of development.

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