Despite mining’s contribution to almost every aspect of modern life, the industry is still seen as one that takes more than it gives, which has brought it to the reputation crisis it faces today, Anglo American’s (LSE: AAL) chief executive officer, Mark Cutifani, said in early February.
“We need to connect the future of mining with next-generation societal values,” Cutifani told delegates at African Mining Indaba, the continent’s biggest gathering of professionals from the resource extraction sector.
“These are the values of increased transparency, responsible technological innovation, sustainability and shared prosperity, all of which are emergent in our world, and are shaping a very different future society.”
His blunt assessment comes as mining companies are under increasing investor pressure to curb carbon emissions, which has led them to shed the most polluting power sources and seek lower costs by using alternatives.
The son of a working-class crane driver, who grew up near Sydney, Australia, he has seen the sector’s transformation in the last five decades, both technologically and socially.
While the sector has modernized, using automation and artificial intelligence to make mines more productive and safer, he believes it has not changed to the same extent as other industries.
Declining grades, at the same time, are forcing companies to dig deeper to keep up production rates, while increasing energy needs and water consumption.
Cutifani said the sector faces the challenge of needing to do things differently, “to find new, safer, more sustainable and cost-effective ways” to supply the essential raw materials needed for a rapidly growing and urbanizing global population, expected to reach 9.5 billion people by 2050.
Cutifani highlighted while mining drives 45% of the world’s economic activity, whether directly or indirectly, it disturbs only a small fraction of the earth’s surface. However, it still needs to do more on the environmental and communities front.
“If we are going to continue to play an instrumental role in powering human progress into the future, we need to ask ourselves some tough but necessary questions about our values as an industry,” he said.
Anglo’s boss noted the company has set ambitious targets to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and improve energy efficiency by 30% by 2030. He added that while most top miners are on the same path, there is one issue that gets lost in the debate over a greener future — the fact that the transition to a low carbon economy cannot happen without the products of mining.
“The metals and minerals that we produce are the essential raw materials for all our modern lives — from the platinum group metals that clean vehicle emissions or enable hydrogen energy, to the copper essential for renewable energy and all our phones and other devices,” Cutifani said.
He called on the audience to work collaboratively with governments on ensuring that they have an adequate supply of sustainable, cost-effective and reliable energy.
“Mining has the opportunity to not only continue positively powering human progress, including through technology, towards a cleaner, greener, more sustainable world, but to do so in a way that is more closely aligned to what society expects of us. That is how we will deliver enduring value — locally and globally,” Cutifani concluded.