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Governments must broker local support for mines, industry group says

The world’s governments must do more to convince local communities and Indigenous groups to support mines that produce critical minerals needed to power the energy transition and fight climate change, the head of a prominent industry group said.

Mines across the globe increasingly face opposition for religious, ecological or other reasons, with pressure seeming to intensify in the past year after officials in Panama, responding to protests, shuttered a mine that supplies 1% of the world’s copper.

Yet efforts to stem a rise in global temperatures have boosted the use of solar panels, electric vehicles and other technologies that are built with large amounts of copper, nickel and other critical minerals.

Cobre Panama: How a $10 billion copper mine is now sitting idle in the jungle – MINING.COM

For the wider mining industry, the story of First Quantum in Panama has become a cautionary tale.

If governments are serious about combating climate change, they must find a way for some projects to advance rather than expecting companies and host communities to negotiate between themselves, Rohitesh Dhawan, CEO of the International Council on Mining and Metals, told Reuters on the sidelines of the World Copper Conference in Santiago this week.

“Now that we have governments more actively engaged in increasing the supply of critical minerals … that comes with a responsibility to help broker an effective and trusted relationship between the industry and impacted communities,” said Dhawan, who joined ICMM in 2021 after a career in consulting.

“We can’t have a situation where governments are entirely hands off.”

London-based ICMM, whose 24 members including BHP and Glencore account for roughly a third of the world’s metals production, is reviewing its policy first crafted a decade ago on how miners should interact with Indigenous communities, Dhawan said, in what is known as free, prior and informed consent (FPIC).

“There’s a need for reframing and a need for an honest conversation about where does the responsibility of a mine start and end, and where does the responsibility of government start and end?” Dhawan said.

The review reflects a strategy shift of sorts, with ICMM now pushing governments to bear the full responsibility of obtaining FPIC. Dhawan said industry should instead be responsible for managing a mine’s local impact.

The mining industry, though, should not necessarily build a mine if it receives government approval but not local support, he added. “Everybody benefits when we transition to a low carbon economy, but the impacts are always local.”

Industry leaders

The tension between the rising need for copper and entrenched opposition was a central theme this week at the Santiago conference, which organizers said was attended by more than 500 people.

“Everybody asks for decarbonization, but what we face all the time is absolutely a battle in every permitting process,” said Roland Harings, CEO of Aurubis, Europe’s largest copper producer.

Executives acknowledged the industry has not always had the best reputation, especially after deadly mining accidents in recent years.

“We need to be able to demonstrate that we will partner with host communities in a more responsible and long-term manner,” said Jonathan Price, CEO of Teck Resources, which operates across the Americas.

That was echoed by executives from Codelco, Chile’s state-owned copper giant, as well as BHP and others.

“Mining is good for the world, but it needs to be done well,” said Simon Collins of Australia’s South32, which is developing a zinc mine in the United States that has the support of President Joe Biden’s administration.

(By Ernest Scheyder, Daina Beth Solomon, Julian Luk, Alexander Villegas and Fabian Cambero; Editing by Jamie Freed)


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