Technical consulting engineers and science expertise provider SRK Consulting has extensive experience and a long working history in the mining sector, and is using its expertise to assist the European Union’s (EU’s) Horizon-funded 2020 research and innovation programme, the EU RE-SOURCING project.
This initiative aims to build a global stakeholder platform for responsible sourcing by bringing together global stakeholders, business, policy makers and civil society, in the supply chains of minerals that are required for the manufacture and development of technology in three sectors – renewable energy, mobility and electronics.
These minerals include copper, which is used in photovoltaic cells; gold, which is used in computer chips; lithium, for use in batteries; and tantalum, used in electronic devices.
As part of its role, SRK Consulting has been requested to identify and reach out to stakeholders in Africa and Asia to facilitate their input to help “guide the EU’s efforts, thereby ensuring that the mineral supply chains do not cause negative environmental and social impacts where minerals are sourced”, says SRK Consulting director and principal consultant Andrew van Zyl.
SRK Consulting is ideally positioned for the role, owing to its hands-on involvement in technical studies for the mining sector, all grounded in environmental, social and governance (ESG) good practices, Van Zyl explains.
“These ESG issues are critical to the way that mines, and mineral-related supply chains, operate. The EU RE-SOURCING project is an important step in developing and aligning global policies with a drive towards decarbonisation and a just transition to renewable energy,” he elaborates.
The drive for renewable energy and mobility is placing immense pressure on natural resources, with demand for related minerals increasing rapidly.
“In the absence of significant breakthroughs, lithium production would have to increase by 965% to keep up with lithium demand by 2059. Further, the next 25 years will require as much copper as has been extracted over the past 500 years. “This implies a rapid ramp-up of an industry that has only recently begun to accurately quantify and carry out its ESG responsibilities,” says SRK Consulting principal consultant Lisl Pullinger.
The mining industry is associated with negative environmental and social impacts, such as tailings dam failures, as well as poorly executed resettlement and displacement programmes.
The industry is constantly re-evaluating how business is conducted within an ESG context. The need to balance limited negative impacts with increased demand is putting pressure on mining companies, adds Pullinger.
The industry is moving towards integrating ESG consideration across all business functions and the entire mining life cycle. Several industry bodies, such as the International Council for Mining and Metals, are continually improving good practice standards for ESG performance to effect change at a high level. Increased focus on responsible practices by investors has also resulted in increased ESG performance at mine-site level.
Some of the ESG issues in the suply chain include the impact of climate change, human rights violations, child labour and the rising role of artisanal and small-scale mining, as well as increasing shared value for local communities.
“Mining is becoming increasingly engaged in the strategies and initiatives that promote environmental, social and economic sustainability while ensuring that the benefits of mining are spread more widely within host countries,” adds Pullinger.
The mining industry has recognised that greenhouse-gas emissions must be reduced and that it must adapt to the risks of climate change. It has voluntarily started transitioning towards reduced emissions and companies have recently been announcing more ambitious, and formal, targets.
“Pressure from investors and other stakeholders is increasingly driving demand for commodities and the pressure to decarbonise, potentially more so than local policy and legislation,” says SRK Consulting principal environmental scientist Philippa Burmeister.
It is, however, the numerous standards, regulations and frameworks published to support decarbonisation, that sees mining companies having difficulty in differentiating which regulations are voluntary, which are required by their host country’s laws and which are required by investors.
“As part of the EU RE-SOURCING project, one of our aims is to provide clarity on which standards and regulations are most appropriate for companies, based on their location, host country and investors to minimise their reporting load,” concludes SRK Consulting senior engineer Bjanka Korb.