Sustaining development of humankind - or just the minerals industry?Published by MAC on 2007-11-01
Sustaining development of humankind - or just the minerals industry?
1st November 2007
As countries like Australia continue to rapidly increase production rates across a range of minerals, a first-of-a-kind report highlights clear trends of resource depletion and growing environmental costs of continuing to produce the same amounts of metal, highlighting the shortsighted nature of current approaches to mineral production and stewardship.
However, it's not at all clear - judging by another, industry-sponsored, address on mining and "sustainable development" - that these lessons are being taken on board.
PEAK MINERALS: Ground breaking report warns of resource depletion.
Mineral Policy Institute Media Release
30th October 2007
To download report go to:
A ground breaking new report, presented at the Minerals Council of Australia Sustainable Development Conference in Cairns on October 30th, is the first comprehensive analysis of Australian mineral production figures gathered since the beginning of the mining industry.
In an Australian first, mining data from as far back as 1829 has been collected and analysed by Monash University academic, Dr Gavin Mudd in conjunction with the Mineral Policy Institute to determine the long term sustainability of a range of Australia's mineral resources.
The research provides the foundation for a much needed discussion of the challenge becoming known as "Peak Minerals," and highlights the short-sighted nature of current mining practices. The traditional industry approach is one of extracting minerals as fast as possible while exploring for more, a strategy which – although historically successful – is becoming increasingly unsustainable as fewer high grade resources are discovered.
The report predicts that at the current rate of production growth, and based upon existing economic demonstrated resources, many strategic mineral resources could be depleted by the year 2050. For example, the best iron ore deposits in the Pilbara could be exhausted with only smaller and poorer quality iron ore remaining.
The report is the first to ever compile quantitative evidence on various mining trends and demonstrates that:
• Ore grades continue to decline – meaning more rock needs to be mined to maintain production;
• Solid wastes are increasing exponentially – such as tailings and waste rock – which increases the environmental burden of metal and mineral production;
• Economic resources for many key strategic minerals appear to have plateaued (eg. coal, iron ore); some minerals have gradually increased (eg. gold, copper) over time but this is proving harder to maintain as ore grades decline and deposits move deeper.
The fundamental implications of these combined trends suggest that the environmental footprint of mining looks set to substantively increase into the future. This includes higher energy, water and chemicals consumption as well as higher greenhouse emissions.
"We are extracting and exporting minerals faster than ever before, with plans to increase output," said Dr. Gavin Mudd, author of the report.
"This trend is already placing a huge burden on the Australian environment – a burden which looks set to increase significantly. We can see the nation racing to the peak of economically available resources with little consideration of the consequences once this point is passed."
The Mineral Policy Institute is urging government and industry to take more seriously the long term implications of the increasingly rapid depletion of a range of once vast mineral resources that have underpinned Australia's strength and economic security.
"Whether you look at it from an economic, strategic, social or environmental perspective, the unfettered expansion of mineral extraction in Australia is a development strategy that is fatally flawed," said James Courtney, researcher with the Mineral Policy Institute.
Unsustainable mining harms Australia,
Science Alert, Konasah University 1 November 2007
A Monash University environmental engineer has warned in a new report that mineral resources are running out, excavation costs are escalating and the environmental costs of mining are devastating.
The world-first report,"The Sustainability of Mining in Australia: Key Trends and Their Environmental Implications for the Future", was authored by Monash researcher and lecturer Dr Gavin Mudd, in conjunction with the independent Mineral Policy Institute.
Dr Mudd said the statistics were alarming. "On average, 27 tonnes of greenhouse emissions are created to mine a tonne of uranium. That's equivalent to the annual emissions of nine family cars. To mine one kilogram of gold it takes 691,000 litres of water, and it takes 141 kilograms of cyanide to produce a single kilogram of gold.
"There is often talk about sustainable mining, but our latest body of research shows that minerals are being mined at an alarming rate, mining companies have to work harder to source it, and as a result the environmental costs of the process and clean-up are rising exponentially.
"If we were to project these key trends just 40 years into the future, we would find that to source the same amount of minerals would require a new Pilbara to be found or a new Mt Isa or Broken Hill - and that's unlikely.
"It takes a minimum of two million tonnes of solid waste to produce a single kilogram of gold. Copper produces around 250 tonnes of solid waste per tonne of copper while uranium produces about 2,400 tonnes of low-level radioactive waste per tonne of uranium oxide."
The landmark report reveals critical trends in the mining industry:
* A decline in mineral and ore grades
* A dramatic increase in waste rock and tailings -- now at several billions of tonnes annually, much of it posing a long-term risk to the environment
* Incomplete sustainability reporting - many companies refuse to accurately report relevant data, including waste rock, tailings, energy, cyanide or water consumption
Dr Mudd said the results of his research clearly show that regulators, shareholders, governments and communities face a challenge, the full extent of which is not being discussed.
"There's no game plan in place for a long-term strategic assessment bynational and international authorities to examine the real sustainability of material resources. More than 50 per cent of land disturbed by mining has not yet been properly rehabilitated."
Gavin Mudd (Gavin.Mudd@eng.monash.edu.au) encourages people who would like copies of conference and academic papers associated with this project to contact him directly.
MCA calls for infrastructure investment and ongoing sustainable development
30th October 2007
A new wave of economic reform, social and physical infrastructure capacity building and renewed commitment to sustainable development is essential if Australians are to benefit from the best opportunities in the minerals industry in a generation, according to the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA). In his opening address to the 2007 Sustainable Development Conference in Cairns, MCA Chief Executive, Mitchell H Hooke, warned of the dangers of becoming complacent, in the current climate of unprecedented industry expansion, about the industry's commitment to sustainable development, the continued imperative for economic reform and the critical need for human, institutional and infrastructure capacity building.
Painting a hypothetical horror scenario, using the "wisdom of hindsight, about what might happen in the year 2025 if socioeconomic reform and global sustainable development is not pursued," Hooke described a world wracked by division, poverty, protectionism and hyper-nationalism, and a guarded country-by-country piecemeal approach to managing climate change. In this bleak world, Australia would be left with an ageing, relatively unskilled population, a narrow tax base, low economic growth, high unemployment, social disharmony and a growing burden of welfare payment, and an ailing climate.
Hooke outlined the risks inherent in the industry's present success and what industry, government and community, in partnership, needed to do lest the industry "veer into the path that leads to the 2025 horror scenario".
Internationally, Australia must continue to press for "a competitive, open global trading system based on an agreed set of rules and a global approach to reconciling climate change with energy security.
"Domestically, we must get the public policy settings right", he said, calling for policies to address the capacity constraints restricting increased production in the minerals sector such as export infrastructure bottlenecks, shortages of skilled trades people and professionals, inconsistent and complex regulation, land access, reform of industrial relations, a simple and equitable emissions trading scheme, a more efficient Federal-State system and a new focus on improving markets for water and electricity.
He cautioned that in the rush to protect the bottom line, the minerals industry could not afford to fall into the trap of taking short cuts, of compromising its commitment to sustainable development. He emphasised the need for continued commitment in facing new challenges which he identified as including efficient use and access to water, reconciling climate change management with energy security, ensuring the social and economic health and wellbeing of communities in which we operate and addressing the considerable capacity constraints to growth.
Hooke foreshadowed a greater focus within the MCA on the health and welfare of the industry's workforce and the communities in which the minerals industry operates. And he called for greater commitment by governments to resourcing Indigenous representative organisations to achieve the minerals industry's goal of sustained economic and social development in Indigenous communities.
The theme of the MCA's 2007 conference is "A Climate for Change". The event is internationally recognised as a pre-eminent sustainable development gathering and brings together over 450 heads of industry, Indigenous leaders, key decision makers, and environmental specialists at a time when the industry is experiencing unprecedented boom conditions.
Over the past five years in particular, the industry has shifted its focus in defining performance beyond the narrower consideration of financial performance to include responsible social development and effective environmental management.
The success of a modern minerals operation in contributing to Australia's wealth and prosperity, is today measured in terms of the triple bottom linesocial and environmental dividends, as well as financial returns. Further, the industry considers the intergenerational benefits of natural resource development should extend beyond the life of our mining operations. That is, that the wealth generated from the conversion of natural capital into societal capital should be enduring within and between generations.