Can mining and metals be sustainable?

Gillian Davidson
Sustainability Advisor to the CEO, Eurasian Resources Group (ERG)
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Mining and Metals

Mining and metals are essential elements in any foreseeable global economy. Each stands at the beginning of many value chains and are significant suppliers of products and employment. Both socially and economically they are bound play a central role for future generations.

To be essential is not, though, to be immune from pressure. Mining and metals are facing constant pressure at every level to change their practices in a way which is more aligned with a world constantly seeking to become more sustainable.

Sustainability will be a major challenge for our planet in the years up to 2050, and beyond. It is estimated that between now and 2050 the world’s population will grow from just over 7bn to 9.6bn, along with further growth in consumption per capita.

The bulk of that growth will take place in Africa and Asia, whose people will demand their share of goods which Europeans and North Americans take for granted. How to accommodate those natural demands within the natural boundaries of our planet is one of the great challenges facing decision-makers in all societies and sectors.

It will become increasingly important to use the planet’s resources sustainably and 9n that perspective governments are legislating on climate change, with more than 300 legislative measures worldwide already.

So the will to adjust exists. The question of how to adjust is another matter. It involves realigning the operations of large and complex industries while enabling them to achieve the short-term benefits they would have had, in terms of both products and employment.

Bearing those questions in mind The World Economic Forum has started an initiative “Mining and Metals in a Sustainable World 2050” in order to discuss the changes for these industries in the long run and how to reposition in order to embrace them. As the first step of this initiative The World Economic Forum developed, in partnership with The Boston Consulting Group, a report taking those discussions further. It provides a framework which describes the key elements of transition to a Sustainable World 2050. It defines the underlying principles essential to a sustainability agenda for mining and metals, and explains how the mining and metals value chain will be impacted. The framework aims at helping the industry to identify the roadmap and actions necessary for success in a changing world.

The industry leadership needs to start forecasting now in order to position themselves adequately with respect to the changes to come. The world envisaged in this document, where sustainability is strongly supported by public bodies and becomes a main long-term driver for most industries, could have profound implications for Mining and Metals players. This does not mean every core activity will change for every player, but without planning ahead players will never be able to respond in an adequate manner to understand the changes to come and respond accordingly.

This report acts as a starting point in the thinking process. Although it does not offer any clear cut answers, it provides a set of first guidelines aiming at helping the players to cope with the transition to a more sustainable world but also to play a significant role in it.

The report, Mining & Metals in a Sustainable World 2050, is available here.

Author: Gillian Davidson, Head of Mining and Metals Industries, World Economic Forum

Image: The foundry is seen during operational hours at the Chuquicamata open pit copper mine, which is owned by Chile’s state-run copper producer Codelco, near Calama city, Chile, April 1, 2011. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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