Rio+20 Business Focus: Mining for resources that do not cost the earth

Politicians make the policy. But it’s often left to business to implement it. For this reason RioPlus Business is featuring submissions from the private sector across the globe in the lead up to Rio+20.

The aim is to demonstrate how Sustainable Development is becoming a reality in every continent, country and city.

The extraction and processing of minerals and metals plays an essential and constantly evolving role in today’s society that will continue far into the future, explains the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM). It is also an industry that is responsible for environmental damage and high carbon emissions. There are however signs that times – and the sector – are changing.

Employees working on a seed nursery. (Source: ICMM)

Minerals and metals are a critical part of developing a modern society – providing essential products, wealth, jobs and opportunity. However, in some countries these resources have been misused and squandered, fuelling conflict and political unrest. These disputes range from land use, property rights, environmental damage, transparency of revenues, to a growing debate about the distribution of the spoils.

Equally, demands for a ‘low-carbon economy’ are growing. For humankind to walk more lightly on the earth we need evolution that is marked by innovation, creativity and sensitivity. These needed approaches are not possible, however, without mined minerals and metals.

The International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) was formed in 2001 to catalyze change and enhance the contribution of mining, minerals and metals to sustainable development. Our 21 member companies employ close to one million of the 2.5 million people working in the mining and metals sector worldwide. These companies produce many of the world’s commodities – 38% of the gold, 30% iron ore, 37% platinum and 34% nickel*. These operations place our members on the front line in dealing with the many complex environmental and social issues apparent today.

In following a path that is ‘responsible and effective’, we must apply a collaborative approach built on a full understanding of all benefits, costs, risks and responsibilities that accrue to all parties affected.

A mining operation in environmentally sensitive Madagascar. (Source: ICMM)

For example, from a country-level macroeconomic perspective, the generation of foreign direct investment, foreign exchange, and government revenues are all important. At the local level, it is the direct benefits of jobs, infrastructure and community services that become critical to consider. If we are to ensure this balance is achieved, all parties – government, company, community – carry certain responsibilities that must be clearly assigned and resourced.

The long-term nature of mining provides an opportunity to be a partner with communities over multiple generations. If the activities are designed and implemented in a way that reflects the overlap in values of the parties and there is a tremendous opportunity for a positive contribution over the long run.

Within the mining and metals industry there is a key role for collaboration as well. Mines often occur in clusters and collaboration between companies to address service and infrastructure needs of projects and communities alike is critical if the possible efficiencies are to be achieved. Small players in the industry are nimble, agile and fast movers. Large companies have the resources and the technical skills. There is an opportunity to benefit from each other’s skills and strengths. Seen in this way, the mining and metals industry is a complex, interdependent web of players.

Open and transparent decision-making will enhance trust and respect. A full and open treatment of strengths and limitations is essential as well as listening and hearing others concerns as well as our own.

You may ask: what is the value of mining to your country – can it be a bridge to a better future? Our answer is yes, but only if we learn to be more responsible and effective. Strengthening our contribution to sustainable development is the task before ICMM, its members and the industry as a whole.

The International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) was established in 2001 to improve sustainable development performance in the mining and metals industry. Today, it brings together 21 mining and metals companies as well as 31 national and regional mining associations and global commodity associations.

*World Mineral Production 2004-2008, British Geological Survey 2010


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