By Jeremy Clarke

In recent years there has been some debate as to the status of the global mining industry. Questions have been asked: is mining a sunset or a sunrise industry? How can mining survive if global growth is limited? Now that all the ‘easy’ deposits have been mined, where do we go from here?

Yes, the global mining industry is not in a good shape at present, but it will never be a sunset industry. There is an old adage, which is even truer today: If you cannot grow it, you must mine it!

A survey by the Mineral Information Institute recently compiled the following statistics, which clearly indicate the necessity for mining. During the course of their lifetime, the survey suggests, the average American born in 2012, with an expected lifespan of 78.7 years, will need:

  • 440 kg of copper
  • 14 327 kg of salt
  • 5 504 kg of clays
  • 232 kg of zinc
  • 495 000 kg of stone, sand and gravel
  • 377 kg of lead
  • 18 173 kg of cement
  • 12 065 kg of iron ore
  • 2 751 kg of bauxite
  • 228 762 kg of coal
  • 7 993 kg of phosphate rocks
  •  14 088 kg of other minerals and metals

These are staggering numbers, made even more phenomenal by multiplying them by the number of American consumers. They become astronomical when one considers the new large economies of China and India, as well as the economics of the members of BRICS and, a recent acronym, KINGS (Kenya, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and Ghana).

 Climate change

The global environmental concerns relating to climate change also provide an impetus to the mining industry. Many countries, including South Africa, are focusing on changing their population’s transportation patterns by introducing mass transit systems and bicycle lanes. These are constructed almost entirely from materials that are mined, including the bicycles. In addition, solar panels, photovoltaic panels and heat pumps all require products from mines. The savvy and well-informed understand that mining and the protection of the environment do not have to be on a collision path.

 What is problematic is that the mining industry is its own worst enemy when it comes to public relations. It is not good at telling people what products it produces for the world, nor how essential these products are to maintaining and improving everybody’s lifestyle.

The mining industry must massively improve its PR. In South Africa, bodies such as the Chamber of Mines are starting to provide the public with real information on issues such as safety record improvements, the completion of environmental work by mines and job creation.

Professional bodies

Other professional bodies such as the Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, the Mining Industry Association of South Africa and the Council for Geoscience should be doing the same. Such publicity would enable people to make more informed decisions with regards to their buying patterns and their objections to mining.

It might be fair to say that the global mining industry is slowly improving its image with respect to environmental management and rehabilitation. However, another risk has raised its head. At the recent West Africa Mining Investment Summit in London, there was much discussion regarding corruption in the industry. It was accepted that corruption is perceived as prevalent, especially in emerging African markets.

At the conference, this was tackled head-on by government ministers, mining companies and investors alike, and there appeared to be commitment by all parties to enforcing relevant national and international laws in this regard. For mining to be respected as a provider of essential materials to the world, these words must be translated into action by all parties.

International approach

A multi-lateral, international approach with engagement from all major producing countries, relevant legal bodies, mining companies and investors is required to generate operational standards that commit to eradicating these issues.

 Mining cannot be a sunset industry. It will certainly move with the macroeconomic cycles, but will always be an essential part of the world’s everyday life.

Jeremy Clarke is a director at Paradigm Project Management (PPM), a comprehensive project management business with specialist skills and experience in capital projects, specifically within the mining industry.