Africa’s mining sector is showcasing a real shift from high-level carbon neutrality intentions to some exciting and practical first steps on the journey to a low carbon future. With the world’s eyes on the Investing in African Mining Indaba in Cape Town, it is heartening to see the technological progress being made in fields like hydrogen-powered mining trucks and mine-site renewable energy plants, according to Andrew van Zyl, director and principal consultant at SRK Consulting. Speaking from the event, where SRK exhibited and contributed to panel sessions, Van Zyl noted that the focus remains justifiably on environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors in mining investment.
“Reflecting how imbedded ESG has become in mining, the industry has more to show for its efforts each year,” said Van Zyl. “The mining industry in Africa – as with its global counterparts – is steadily developing its understanding of ESG and applying better practices, to the benefit of stakeholders.”
Momentum in the ESG field has taken mining beyond the initial focus on compliance alone and into a more proactive approach. Where stakeholder engagement was once viewed mainly as just a step in the permitting process, for instance, it is today increasingly embraced as an opportunity to build stronger partnerships with communities.
He also pointed to the attention given by leading mining companies to the energy transition, and to creating a cleaner energy ecosystem that could stimulate inclusive development opportunities for the continent. Anglo American recently announced the launch of its end-to-end integrated green hydrogen production, fuelling and haulage system. This could reportedly remove up to 80% of diesel emissions generated on opencast mines.
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“The economic disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic highlighted how dependent so many economies are on mining,” he said. “In South Africa, it remains a cornerstone – even recently helping to raise the country’s investment ratings from negative to stable.”
The tone of this year’s Indaba was significantly more upbeat, as buoyant commodity prices have given mining companies improved liquidity to back capital projects for new or expanded operations. This liquidity has also made it easier for lenders to contribute debt financing to mineral projects.
“Mining’s recent growth – despite the Covid-related lockdowns – has been fostered by the rapid evolution of technology,” he noted. “Within the global SRK network, we were able to continue building connections, even sharing virtual site visits as part of our inter-country collaboration.”
These digital communication channels are allowing a greater global appreciation of one-of-a-kind technological developments such as the hydrogen trucks in South Africa, said Van Zyl. At the same time, Africa can learn from countries like Australia about implementing hybrid power plants at mines.
He added that the ESG discussions at the Indaba were also likely to prioritise water stewardship on mines as an important strategy to address both operational risk and social licence to mine.