After years of defending dirty extractive industries such as the mining of coal, large mining companies seemed to have switched sides and joined the Greens, or so it seemed at the African Mining Indaba held last week in South Africa.
At the Indaba, the continent’s biggest gathering of one of its most vital industries, the companies appeared less combative than in years past. Among the highlights of the conference was a statement by Mark Cutifani, head of Anglo American, a multinational company based in Johannesburg, South Africa and London.
The mining industry faces a “crisis of reputation,” Cutifani declared. “The industry must do things differently to find new, safer, more sustainable and cost-effective ways to supply the world’s essential raw materials, he said.
“We are still seen as an industry that takes more than it gives,” he said.
He urged mining companies to connect the future of mining with changing societal values.
“Our challenge is clear; we need to find new, safer, more sustainable and cost-effective ways to supply essential raw materials to meet the needs of a rapidly growing and urbanizing global population for decades to come.”
Anglo American is working to transform the company’s physical and social footprint, he said, to have a positive effect on the communities and environment where it operates.
“This means we are listening, recognizing that we don’t have all the answers,” Cutifani said. “Climate change is one of the defining challenges of our time. We cannot ignore or underestimate its global impact.”
Reports of the inevitable demise of coal were echoed repeatedly among some of its strongest advocates. John Startin, of the banking advisors company, Evercore Inc., called the resource “un-investible.” Natural gas and renewable energy infrastructure are largely replacing coal plants due to lower costs, regulatory challenges and other obstacles stacked against coal generation.
Norway’s sovereign wealth fund divested from all fossil fuel last year, and the world’s biggest asset manager Blackrock said on January 14 it would sell active holdings in companies generating more than 25% of revenues from thermal coal.
In Africa, where access to electricity is still a problem, coal-to-power projects could previously rely on support from development finance institutions. But even they are withdrawing under pressure.
In November, the African Development Bank decided against funding a Kenya coal project that was halted by a local environmental tribunal in June.
The continent’s biggest coal producer, South Africa, is also seeing funding dry up. South Africa’s Nedbank has stopped funding coal-related projects, while FirstRand cut greenfield thermal coal projects to less than 0.5 percent of its lending.
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