Sunday Times

Miners can capitalise on ‘positive disruption’

Targeting net-zero and zero harm can ensure a sustainabl­e future for African mining

- RUANNE SANDROCK and GERHARD BOLT ✼ Sandrock is principal at dss+, an operations management consulting firm. Bolt is principal and head of decarbonis­ation, Europe, Middle East and Africa, at dss+

Sustainabl­e mining is only possible if we recognise the value it creates

The theme of this year’s Investing in African Mining Indaba — “Embracing the power of positive disruption: a bold new future for African mining ”— is fitting, as the enormous demand for the batteries and critical minerals required for the green energy transition is driving explosive growth.

The agenda topics focus on how companies can capitalise on this moment to become more resilient and contribute to economic and social developmen­t across the continent. But in the agenda around sustainabi­lity the focus is more theoretica­l — the feasibilit­y of net-zero emissions, the applicabil­ity of circularit­y and principles of nature positivity — or geared towards new technologi­es such as leveraging green hydrogen to power mines or the potential for digitisati­on. While these topics have merit, they do not correlate to the challenge the industry faces: how to implement sustainabi­lity effectivel­y.

While intentions are important, the reality is that implementa­tion often presents the greatest challenge for miners across the continent.

The data is clear: 2023 was the warmest year on record. Last year may have marked the moment when the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5°C became impossible. Is this something that will be top of mind for mining executives, investors and policymake­rs at the Indaba? Are they considerin­g the role mining can play to contribute to a more sustainabl­e future?

Mining accounts for only 8%-10% of direct global greenhouse gas emissions but 28% when downstream emissions are taken into account. The combustion of thermal coal is the single biggest contributo­r. Investors are now putting pressure on diversifie­d miners to divest from coal and pursue net-zero targets by 2050.

An assessment conducted by dss+ on 52 mining companies indicates that the current rate of decarbonis­ation is only 2% a year. This places the mining sector on a trajectory of 3°C of warming by the end of the century. More than double that effort — at least a 4.5% reduction per year — will be required to align with the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi).

While many mining companies have committed to net-zero emissions and are fully aware of the potential of the technical solutions options that exist to drasticall­y reduce emissions across the value chain, the challenge lies elsewhere. Top mining executives consider the most significan­t barriers to be a lack of incentives, capital, requisite skills, conducive policy frameworks and the difficulty of developing effective procedures, mindsets and key performanc­e indicators.

Effective decarbonis­ation requires a two-pronged approach: the recognitio­n of the value decarbonis­ation brings and a conducive environmen­t.

There must be a shift of mindset within the mining industry; rather than being a tick-box exercise to please investors, decarbonis­ation and sustainabi­lity create value for the organisati­on. Too often they are derided as compliance initiative­s rather than being leveraged for the benefit of the business. They should be linked to practical solutions, continuous improvemen­t, energy efficiency and cost optimisati­on. Mines can reduce between 4%-20% of their emissions through operationa­l efficiency improvemen­ts that are not capital intensive.

Creating an enabling environmen­t is the responsibi­lity of government and regulators, but mines can play a significan­t role by lobbying for a more conducive operating environmen­t.

Supportive regulatory frameworks and incentives are crucial. Government­s establish policies that encourage sustainabl­e practices and provide a level playing field for businesses. Incentives such as tax breaks or subsidies can motivate organisati­ons to adopt more environmen­tally-friendly technologi­es and practices on a greater scale. When policy frameworks are aligned with sustainabi­lity goals, uptake becomes more feasible and attractive.

The feasibilit­y of net-zero and the principles of circularit­y and nature positivity hold immense potential. But turning these concepts into actionable steps requires a comprehens­ive transforma­tion of industries and societies. This requires addressing financial constraint­s, technologi­cal limitation­s, policy frameworks and societal acceptance. But by navigating these obstacles, intentions can be translated into tangible outcomes.

Many significan­t safety incidents — especially those resulting in multiple injuries or fatalities, environmen­tal or asset damage — point to a common shortfall: gaps in the foundation­al practices related to the identifica­tion and effective control of risks. While we have made considerab­le progress, more work is needed to advance the industry’s safety journey towards zero harm.

In this year’s conference agenda, safety topics place a notable emphasis on technology and digitisati­on. Technologi­cal innovation holds promise for revolution­ising safety practices and significan­tly mitigating risks, providing new tools to support decision-making, real-time monitoring and applying automation. However, the transforma­tive potential of technology hinges on companies’ ability to integrate these innovation­s into existing systems and overcome barriers such as cost, lack of infrastruc­ture and resistance to change.

The mining industry’s maturity in safety and risk management practices lags other high-risk sectors, such as oil and gas, where safety cultures and risk management protocols have been honed over decades of operationa­l challenges. The lessons learnt in these industries offer invaluable insights that can and should be adapted and applied within the mining context.

Collaborat­ive efforts can speed up the industry’s safety journey. Through the sharing of best practices, the disseminat­ion of lessons learnt from past incidents and the collective exploratio­n of technologi­cal innovation­s, mining companies can foster a culture of safety that transcends individual corporate boundaries.

We must face the reality that the mining industry still claims lives. At forums such as the African Mining Indaba, where the industry’s leaders gather, it is paramount that critical safety issues remain at the forefront of discussion­s. The conference presents a unique opportunit­y to spark a renewed industrywi­de commitment to safety.

While we commend the conference’s focus on several critical topics, we must not lose sight of the fundamenta­l imperative to protect the lives and wellbeing of those who work in and live around mines. The path to zero harm requires persistent focus and the collective resolve and action of all stakeholde­rs within the mining industry.

We are heartened to see the energy and positivity at this year’s indaba. As miners, investors and government­s gather, we encourage them to discuss not just what the future of mining will be, but also how we get there practicall­y and sustainabl­y.

 ?? Picture: Shelley Christians/Reuters ?? President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers the keynote address at the Investing in African Mining Indaba 2023 conference in Cape Town in February last year.
Picture: Shelley Christians/Reuters President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers the keynote address at the Investing in African Mining Indaba 2023 conference in Cape Town in February last year.
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