Zero carbon is only half the story: zero harm + zero waste
It would be easy to suggest that net-zero carbon targets are the sole reason for why the mining sector needs to change, but the truth is more complicated, as the mining sector has been facing a series of internal and external challenges in recent years that are further forcing its hand.
Mine productivity rates have been dropping, costs have increased and capital for expansion is hard to come by. Over the past 15 years, the average cost of producing copper has risen by more than 300% with its grade dropping by 30% during the same period.
Mineral extraction at existing operations is also becoming more challenging with the richest seams now found further underground or in harder to access areas. In this context, zero waste and productivity measures have become all the more critical in ensuring that operations remain profitable.
Not only this, the rise in importance of environmental, social and governance (ESG) is also having a huge impact: zero harm.
Many of the world’s easily-mineable sites have now been tapped and potential new sites with minerals of sufficient volume and quality to warrant investment are generally in either more environmentally sensitive areas, could come in direct conflict with the needs of the local population, or are in parts of the world considered difficult to do business.
This could be described as a maturation of the industry and it has come at the same time as governments, spurred on by the likes of The Paris Agreement and other global agreements, are demanding much more of businesses across all sectors; enacting compliance powers that frequently reach extraterritorial to protect people and the environment in lieu of their national governments doing so.
For miners, beyond the public relations battles that are seen in the media, it’s made access to the cheap capital required to fund new mineral extraction and refinement projects difficult to come by and has meant that they need to do much more than pay lip service to their own ESG initiatives, implementing zero harm goals for both employees, the environment and the communities in which they operate.