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ESG in mining cannot be reduced merely to a matter of compliance

A woman shows a small sum of gold particles wrapped in mercury before it is heated to extrat raw gold at one of the gold mining sites. EPA/DAI

A woman shows a small sum of gold particles wrapped in mercury before it is heated to extrat raw gold at one of the gold mining sites. EPA/DAI

Published Apr 1, 2022

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By Robinson Ramaite

For many years, the mining industry has been increasingly aware of the need to comply with environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards and targets, primarily to address its impact on the environment and communities.

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This is succinctly articulated in a 2017 academic paper, Mining industry and sustainable development: time for change “mining is the human activity that has been more disturbing to the environment and is linked to large social impacts and inequalities.”

Importantly, “Mining activities are very diverse and may have different ecological footprints. Past mining activities left such imprints in the environment, but two issues, in particular, are of major and worldwide importance: mine tailings and acid mine drainage.”

Understanding these realities and the increasing demands from local communities has required that we do things differently.

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The unavoidable impact of climate change as well as the inability of the global community to act quicker and in concert to stave off these consequences have made it incumbent upon us to take the lead, where possible, in building healthier communities in the interests of creating sustainability of the sector and its operations.

Wescoal, as a junior miner in the sector, has been actively working towards diversifying our operations to ensure we are more responsive to market conditions while ensuring our sustainability.

While assessing various scenarios to achieve this, we have ultimately settled on positioning ourselves as an investment company, with a primary focus on energy and mining for the green economy.

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Coal will remain a substantial but reducing component of our business operations alongside other green solutions.

Despite the pressure on the sector to de-carbonise and participate in the green economy, the reality is that South Africa’s energy mix will require coal to continue to be with us as a source of energy for some time, perhaps until 2050.

We will, however, increasingly decrease our reliance on coal while adopting more renewable energy sources in our operations.

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We will also look to invest in other sectors that align with our business objectives and ethos with a view to growing the company and our market share.

The good news is that as technological advances become more accessible, the cost of being a good corporate citizen is also getting lower.

Operationally, it is now much cheaper to replace fossil fuels with renewables and, in many cases, attain significant economic and social benefits.

This brings us closer to achieving the just transition that is being sought by activists and communities. From a definitional perspective, according to the Climate Justice Alliance, just transition refers to: “a vision-led, unifying and place-based set of principles, processes and practices that build economic and political power to shift from an extractive economy to a regenerative economy. This means approaching production and consumption cycles holistically and waste-free.”

The mining sector has traditionally been an extractive one.

To incorporate the ethos of just transition into our operations, ensuring we are able to transform into a regenerative industry will require persistence, determination, good relations with our stakeholders and, most importantly, visionary leadership!

The innovations that the mining sector will, over time, adopt and also co-create contribute in large part to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in local communities.

According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP): “Mining investments can also contribute to sustainable development, particularly to its economic dimension. It can bring fiscal revenues to a country, drive economic growth, create jobs and contribute to building infrastructure.”

While the introduction of technology to de-carbonise, and create better conditions for communities, may require capital, such investments can actually be considered competitive assets as described by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The sector is also not merely an adopter of innovation. According to the OECD, it can also “act as a conduit for the deployment of new green technology, including automation, which can be transferable to other sectors of the economy. More energy efficient operations, increased electrification, and increased use of renewable energy are also applicable to other economic sectors.”

One of our primary objectives moving forward is to unlock value with a 360-degree perspective. For us to continue to be sustainable, we will have to create value for our corporate entity, employees, communities, stakeholders and shareholders. Win-win solutions cannot merely be a slogan or marketing speak!

For Wescoal, sustainability is about our entire ecosystem, from our people to our communities, to our financial performance.

The triple bottom line - people, planet and profit – are not just tick boxes we have to report on in our annual reports. It is our raison d’etre ,and we are ready to do what is required of us.

Not only are we embracing the change, we are also ready to inspire change in our industries of choice. Time is not on our side, and we must act now if we want to leave the planet in a better place for the generations who will follow.

Robinson Ramaite is CEO of Wescoal

BUSINESS REPORT

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