10/01/2023 – Mining / IMARC / Sustainability / Resources / Conference
TRANSPARENCY & TRANSITION: IMARC explores mining’s pivotal role in our sustainable future
From skill shortages and supply chain constraints, to the global energy transition and the essential role of mining in a decarbonised world, the International Mining & Resources Conference (IMARC) this year covered a gamut of highly topical issues. Industry Networker reports on the most salient themes explored at the international mining industry event.
The recently concluded IMARC 2022 was the event’s biggest edition yet, with a record number of delegates, speakers, exhibitors and sponsors – and a 20-per-cent bigger footprint. Indeed, the marquee event for the Australasian mining and resources sector welcomed nearly 8,000 delegates and over 500 speakers from more than 110 countries to Sydney to collaborate on trends in mining, investment, and innovation towards a sustainable future, with a clear focus on the industry’s ESG practices via a series of showcase panels.
Calls for greater transparency
Former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, who delivered the keynote address on the opening day of the conference, highlighted the need for greater global transparency within the mining and extractive industry as the world transitions to renewable and greener forms of energy.
Given the rising cost of electricity globally, Ms. Clarke warned that the risks of getting the transition wrong would disproportionately affect the most vulnerable in society. Addressing the conference in her role as Chair of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), she flagged the difficulties in transitioning in a clean, just and sustainable manner. “Most low-carbon technologies use far more mineral resources than its fossil fuel equivalent,” Ms. Clark noted. “The bottom line is the world needs more mining.”
Unveiled at the show, EITI’s new report – Transition Mineral Value Chains and the Role of Good Governance – sets out a framework for actors at sub-national, national, and international level to engage in transparent and ethical mining.
“Half of the 700 critical mineral sites in the 57 countries EITI reports in impact conservation areas,” informed Ms. Clarke. “80 per cent of those sites are located near or on the land of indigenous people or are of cultural significance.”
Since 2003, EITI has managed to disclose US$2.95 trillion of revenue across 57 countries. This disclosure provides the foundation for signatories to identify weaknesses, strengthen processes, and maximise the positive impact of the extractive industries within their region.
Addressing the IMARC audience, BHP’s Group Procurement Officer James Agar likewise called for systematic collaboration and radical transparency within the mining sector. “As a result of Covid, global demand vanished almost overnight. What we learnt is that we can’t do it alone, we need to work collaborative and we need to be more transparent with our partners,” he stressed.
Despite coming out the other side after the worst of pandemic-induced lockdowns, the global economic outlook has not improved. “Labour markets are tight globally, with no sign of easing soon,” Mr Agar asserted. “The energy crisis in Europe is profound and will continue to drive volatility in energy markets.”
As a result, BHP is currently pursuing a policy of “radical transparency and systematic collaboration” to ease pressures facing Australia’s largest miner. Mr Agar explained that this means building relationships with all stakeholders that support BHP’s operations, no matter the size of the partner.
Leading the transition to green energy
The transition to a green energy future was a key focus at IMARC, with a lack of available critical minerals to help build green technologies currently acting as a key bottleneck to that transition globally.
Newcrest Mining’s CFO Sherry Duhe told the opening session of IMARC that critical mineral demand is going to increase by 300 per cent by 2040. “As we become less of the problem, we need to be more of the solution,” she said.
Australia is currently the world’s largest supplier of nickel, rutile, tantalum and zircon, whilst also being a top five global supplier of cobalt, lithium, copper, antimony, niobium and vanadium – key materials needed for battery and other green technologies vital to a sustainable future.
Amber Bieg from Warm Springs Consulting pointed to stark figures that illustrate the massive hurdle the world faces in order to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050, stating that the mining of minerals would “need to grow by six times by 2050” to reach such a target.
Despite the need for more mining in order to transition to a green energy future, the public still perceive the mining industry intrinsically tied to fossil fuels when the reality is vastly different. Nonetheless, Troy Hey, Executive General Manager at MMG, sees the demand for critical minerals as generational opportunity for the sector, stating it “could be the greatest reputational repositioning for the industry in a life a time”.
Elsewhere at the leading mining industry conference, Australia’s Minister for Resources, Madeleine King, said the country has “an unmissable opportunity and a remarkable responsibility” to help lead the global transition to a decarbonised future.
Addressing the IMARC audience, Minister King said mining was fundamental to the energy transition, and that Australia’s leadership was critical in helping drive change, while at the same time providing the exports, regional investment, jobs, and First Nations employment opportunities that make the sector one of the most important industries in the country. “The Australian resources sector and the great value of the exceptional natural endowment of this country dwarfs all other industries,” she said. “It represents 70 per cent of our exports, 10 per cent of our GDP and around $450 billion in economic activity in this financial year alone. It currently employs a record 285,000 Australians and generates around $43 billion annually in the taxes and royalties that provide the essential services the country needs.
“But this does not all happen by luck. It takes people and their ingenuity and determination and commitment to create the industry that has become the backbone of Australia’s economy,” she added.
Minister King said the Australian energy and resources sector was in a period of major transition, and it was instrumental to global ambitions for a decarbonised economy. “Net zero cannot be achieved without the resources sector. We will need to mine more minerals, not less. Many of our resources are vital to the clean energy transition and a decarbonised global economy, such as batteries, wind turbines and electric motors,” she asserted. “Vast quantities of these minerals will be needed, and Australian production will be required to meet the ambition of the global goal of decarbonising our economies.”
Resultantly, she stressed that Australia must “bring forward a new wave of investment in our resources sector and further demonstrate how Australia is not only reducing our emissions at home but is also a crucial player in the global effort to reach net zero emissions.”
Elsewhere at IMARC, the keynote address was a panel discussion focusing on energy transition and decarbonisation. The panel was made up of global heavyweights from the energy, mining, infrastructure, and digital sector.
Setting the scene, David Solsky – Vice President Sustainability Software Solutions at IBM – said that we are “on the verge of the biggest transformation of the global economy in a century”.
“What is certain is that the energy transition is going to happen. What is unknown is when or how,” added Sarah Barker, Head of Climate Risk Governance at Minter Ellison. “We do know however, transitions are not linear, they tend to be bumpy.”
Talking to the mammoth task ahead, Sue Brown – Executive Group Director Sustainability at Worley, predicted “the scale of investment needed in energy infrastructure alone will need to increase four or five times every year for the next 20 to 30 years.”
However, the transition comes with risk, warned Michael van Maanen, Executive General Manager of Corporate, Government and Community at Whitehaven Coal. Mr Maanen understands the social and economic imperative of transitioning to green and renewable energy, but believes the transition must not come at the expense of exponentially higher power prices. “Investors are accelerating the transition much faster than customers can bear – and that’s problematic,” he remarked.
Eng. Suliman Bin Khaled Almazroua, CEO of the National Industrial Development and Logistics Program (NIDLP), explained how Saudi Arabia is tackling energy costs amid their rapid transition to renewable and green energy. “We have added sustainability to our equation when determining risk in new projects. What we’ve found is that by doing that we are creating long-term value for companies who want to invest new projects,” he reported.
Ensuring indigenous engagement
With 80 per cent of future resources on Indigenous land or that of land-connected people, it is clearly vital that First Nations communities are included in the conversations and collaborations about the future of the sector, IMARC attendees heard.
Setting the tone for the focus on this inclusion, Florence Drummond – CEO of Indigenous Women in Mining and Resources Australia (IWIMRA) – delivered a powerful First Nations Partner address.
“IWIMRA started in 2017, and at that point we only had about half a per cent of indigenous women participating in the industry here in Australia,” she noted, “so I’m very glad to see the development of initiatives to welcome more indigenous women into the industry.”
IWIMRA has partnered with IMARC, working to raise the profile of First Nations women and contributing to best practice solutions ensuring the visibility, voice and quality participation of Indigenous women within the sector.
Ms. Drummond also chaired a panel of influential industry leaders at IMARC, discussing the importance of Indigenous participation across the supply chain with a focus on the engagement and procurement of Indigenous businesses.
This is a very personal topic for panellist and Chair of the Barada Barna Aboriginal Corporation, Luarna Dynevor – a First Nations business owner who sees it as vitally important that Indigenous organisations have the first right to refusal when mining companies are contracting third party vendors. “No one’s ever asked me why I own a business. I own a business to employ my own people and keep them going and make sure they have success – and that’s why I push for those contracts,” stressed Ms. Dynevor, who went on to highlight how, in the last three years, engagement of Indigenous businesses has improved – but many obstacles remain.
“We’re making these companies accountable and they’re giving us the first right of refusal. The biggest challenge, though, is compliance,” she observed. “Big companies make it so hard for small businesses to weave and navigate their way through compliance and if you don’t have assistance in that, you’re going to fail.”
Jim Walker – Chair of the Cooperative Research Centre for Transformation in Mining Economies (CRC TiME)’s First Nations Advisory Team – stressed that the importance of building relationships with Indigenous communities and businesses cannot be underestimated. “Indigenous people need to be included not as stakeholders but as rights holders. We need to be part of the decision making,” he remarked. “We want a real participation in all things relating to mining and beyond.”
Whitehaven Coal, the sponsor of IMARC’s Indigenous Participation Program, spent $8.73 million with 14 local Aboriginal run businesses in 2021, and the company’s Aboriginal Community Relations Manager, Bob Sutherland, said it is a vital contribution to these communities. “One of the things we are keen to do is make sure First Nations businesses are successful on all levels, because the biggest employers of Indigenous people are Indigenous businesses – and we want to make sure they are strong, resilient and able to move forward,” he advised. “These businesses are changing people’s lives, locally. We’re making a difference, not only to the economic development within Aboriginal communities, but right across the north west of NSW,” he added.
Transforming workplace culture
There was a keen focus on workplace culture and diversity at IMARC 2022, with mining leaders throughout the conference acknowledging that if the industry does not act now to fix and change the culture, they will not be able to attract the staff required for the new resources boom.
Chief People Office at IGO, Sam Retallack told the conference: “We as industry have broken the psychological contract of trust that we have with the community. We are seen as a cause of climate change not as a solution. We are seen as an unsafe workplace for females, we are seen as inflexible with our rostering and that you must commit to FIFO work. It’s not a particularly attractive proposition for new workers.”
Meanwhile, Danielle Martin – Director of Social Performance at ICMM – spoke of the substantial issues facing the industry as workforce skills change and evolve. “The competition for talent will be tricky for mining, because the skills in many cases are less specific to mining and are applicable across other sectors,” she noted. “Because of the culture and perception of mining, it is a less attractive industry for many workers who could work in other industries.”
All is not lost however, as Stuart Jenner – General Manager of Capability and Culture at Gold Road Resources – reflected on the cultural issues the Australian Defence Force faced 20 years ago. Changes to workplace culture will likely lead to an increase in the recruitment of new staff and the retention of key talent as the competition for skills intensifies. “Defence Force recreated its brand and aligned it with its purpose – and Mining needs to do the same. We need to be upfront, honest, and transparent to establish that purpose. The Defence Force pay nowhere near what the mining industry does, but because of their purpose, they have a huge amount of success in attracting talent.”
Certainly, there is a realisation from the sector that the industry must act now and push for the acknowledgment that these issues need to be addressed from the top down. Gavin Wood – Chief Information Officer at Newcrest Mining – described to IMARC delegates the work they are doing to change culture with their existing workforce. He said many existing staff at Newcrest grew up in mining areas and communities and that the firm needed to give them the skills to interact with other aspects of the business and by virtue society. “If we do not give them these skills, the culture will not change.”
The future of mining
With IMARC 2022 all wrapped up, Anita Richards – COO of event organiser Beacon Events – stressed that mining has never been more essential. “A decarbonised global economy depends on it, and as a truly global event, IMARC is all about bringing together industry, government, and community leaders from all over the world to lead the conversations the world needs for a clean energy future,” she remarked. “Equally, IMARC has firmly established itself as the place to be when it comes to the important conversation about the future of the critical mining and resources sector. We are proud to be able to continue to facilitate the important conversation about the future of mining right in the heart of Australia’s global city, and are already planning for IMARC 2023 in Sydney from 31 October to 2 November.”
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