While the media and investors have focused on the consequent demands for lithium and cobalt, other metals will also be needed if we are to achieve the Paris Agreement’s climate change targets. For example, a 3-megawatt wind turbine requires more than 300 tonnes of steel, 4 tonnes of copper and over 200 tonnes of metallurgical coal to make the steel.
Helping the world decarbonise is just one important role that mining will play in the coming decades. Another driver of demand for mined products is older than mining itself: population growth.
The United Nations (UN) estimates 83 million more people share our planet every year. To put this in perspective, global population is increasing by the size of Birmingham every five days.
While demand for metals will continue to grow, so too will the performance expectations placed by society on the miners who will supply those metals from our evermore crowded planet.
The social contract between mining companies, and host countries and communities has vastly evolved over the last few decades. It used to be considered sufficient to pay taxes and dividends, while producing the materials the world needed.
Now, and even more so in the future, companies are expected to deliver on a much more holistic set of environmental, social and governance (ESG) objectives including, among other things, conserving resources, addressing human rights issues and partnering with others to maximise local economic benefits.
These objectives are at the forefront of the minds of the chief executives of our members. They recognise that getting the ESG side of their operations right is not just a nice to have, but is crucial for the long-term viability of their operations.
The 25 company members of the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) are committed to integrating sustainable development in their corporate strategy and decision-making, and to pursuing continual improvement. This is enshrined in ICMM’s ten principles that all our company members commit to, as well as additional binding policies that cover issues such as water stewardship, the transparency of mineral revenues, indigenous peoples, and not mining in protected areas.
Looking ahead, helping to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will become increasingly important. These global goals provide a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us all to align in tackling the biggest challenges faced by both people and planet, and ICMM is determined to play its part. We have mapped our principles against the SDGs and believe that mining can play an invaluable role in helping deliver on all of them.
The mining and metals industry is at least 5,000 years old, but it is also an industry of the future with extraordinary potential to improve human wellbeing.
In fact, the lives of large numbers of ordinary people around the world, in even the most troubled developing countries, have been improved as a result of mining by responsible companies.
There is still a long way to go, but when mining is done properly it can bring great benefits to host countries and communities, and allow them to diversify their economies, develop their education and social services, and develop sustainable energy supplies, housing and infrastructure.
In future it will no longer be enough to say mining will supply the metals needed for modern lives. We will have to show that the metals needed are mined with principles.