Tracey Davies, executive director at Just Share, a non-profit shareholder activism organisation, said there was good governance failure on the part of the government, given where mining activities took place. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko, Reuters.
Tracey Davies, executive director at Just Share, a non-profit shareholder activism organisation, said there was good governance failure on the part of the government, given where mining activities took place. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko, Reuters.

Mining companies have failed to speak up about the environmental devastation they cause

By Dineo Faku Time of article published Oct 7, 2021

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THE mining industry has failed to speak up about projects that are causing environmental devastation in South Africa, the virtual 2021 Joburg Indaba heard yesterday.

Speaking during a panel discussion at the Indaba, Tracey Davies, executive director at Just Share, a non-profit shareholder activism organisation, said there was good governance failure on the part of the government, given where mining activities took place.

“At the moment, there is no rule about where we mine. We mine wherever we want, no matter what the future devastation that will wreck and the implications on the economy it will have. The mining industry as a whole has failed to speak up about the projects that are causing devastation in this country,” said Davies.

She said the government had failed on multiple fronts in its duty in the regulation of the environment and social impacts when it came to the mining industry.

“You see it in the extraordinary devastation that has been brought about in vast swathes of our country, in areas where rehabilitation has not taken place, in the devastation of communities that have been left behind and that are still left behind, regardless of how much it is a business imperative to take them along with you,” Davies said.

She said rampant water and air pollution were also a weakness on the part of government agencies.

Environmental governance and social impacts on mining are taking centre stage, with South Africa approving a goal for the country to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050. The move will require reconfiguration of business models across all sectors of the economy, particularly the mining sector, considering its high carbon intensity.

A number of mining companies, including Gold Fields, Exxaro Resources and Tharisa Minerals, have announced plans to reduce their carbon footprints for a sustainable future.

Davies said accountability was key to ensuring the commitments were achieved.

“We do need the targets to give people something to work towards. The 2050 target is important but not as important as the 2025 target. All of these things right now should be linked in far higher percentages to the remuneration of the people who are making these commitments. At the moment, there are not enough personal incentives to ensure that people achieve these targets,” said Davies.

She also said shareholders needed to ensure that the targets were met.

Chris Griffith, chief executive at Gold Fields, said that his part of his remuneration had, in fact, had targets linked to the commitments the company made to reduce its carbon footprint.

“In the last two or three years, we have seen mining companies implement a number of these technologies. People are doing the work so we can make these technologies work. If we say we can only talk about technology that is here today, we will never do anything. We have to say we will make this technology work,” said Griffith.

Gold Fields said in its 2020 climate change report its strategic priority was “pursuing de-carbonisation” and building resilience to climate change” in line with our commitment to the Paris Agreement and its target of net-zero carbon by 2050.

Among others, it intends to achieve net-carbon emission milestones for 2025 and 2030 off a 2020 baseline and reduce carbon emissions and increase offsets to become net-zero carbon by 2050.

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