You rarely see them. But chances are that you are using them right now to communicate with others, get from one place to the other, or access basic services such as electricity. In fact, it is estimated that each one of us uses or consumes about 40,000 pounds of them every year.
They are the minerals and metals that make up the fabric of the most essential parts of today’s world, from computers and smartphones to TVs and cars. They are also a vital component for the renewable energy technologies required for the transition to a low-carbon future. For instance, in one 3-megawatt wind turbine alone, there are 4.7 tons of copper, 3 tons of aluminum, 335 tons of steel and 1,200 tons of concrete – this is equivalent to the weight of 300 fully grown elephants.
The demand for extracting and processing critical minerals is increasing at a monumental pace. This is primarily due to the increase in the global population which is expected to reach 9 billion by 2030 – including 3 billion new middle-class consumers. , in the next 25 years, the world will need 550 million tons of copper. That means that the last 5000 years of world production will barely cover the next 25 years of demand. The rapid increase in the demand for minerals is also due to climate change, which calls for an imminent shift to clean energy. It is indicative that the global battery market, which allows the storage of wind and solar energy and can provide people with clean, affordable, round-the-clock power, is expected to grow from roughly $65 billion to $100 billion by 2025.
The African continent, with its vast endowments of critical minerals, can be deeply impacted by this unprecedented demand. To ensure the impacts are beneficial and turned into a growth opportunity, governments, the private sector, and other key players must work together to adopt sustainable mining practices – including the recycling and reuse of minerals and metals throughout the process. From an environmental perspective, the focus should be placed on using clean energy in mining operations, which is critical for energy transition, while also reducing water use, innovating in waste management and minimizing forest loss. On a social level, it’s important to ensure local communities are consulted, remain protected, and benefit from mining operations. Continuing business as usual can be detrimental for the local economies supplying these minerals, leading to severe negative impacts for people and the environment.
Building a robust, well-governed mining sector is like building a house. You must start with a strong foundation – in the form of a legal, regulatory, and contractual framework. The structure of the house comprises the mining codes, laws and rules, with a well-resourced government body to enforce them. A strong roof shields the country from external elements and threats; it protects people who may be adversely affected by mining activities, such as indigenous people, women and children; and it safeguards the environment, ensuring mining is conducted as sustainably as possible.
The World Bank, with a decades-long history working with almost every African mining country, helps governments build that solid “house” for the mining sector to flourish. We provide finance and help create good governance by strengthening institutions, promoting transparency, and implementing strong laws, which pave the way for “climate-smart” mining and “green” supply chains.
For example, in Guinea, we supported the government with mining sector reforms – especially on how to engage with the private sector and enhance benefits for local communities – which ultimately contributed to attracting $4 billion of mining investment and establishing the country as the world’s third largest producer of bauxite. Similar World Bank projects across Africa – from Madagascar to Burkina Faso,
Mali, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Togo – are helping countries attract and responsibly manage investment while bringing lasting social benefits.
All in all, sustainable mining roadmaps, that are unique to each country’s needs, can be game-changers and lay the foundations for “extracting” the best opportunities for development, one country (or mine site) at a time.
Riccardo Puliti is Global Director, Energy and Extractive Industries and Regional Director, Infrastructure, Africa at the World Bank
Investing in African Mining Indaba 2020 is being held from Mon, 3 Feb 2020 – Thu, 6 Feb 2020 in the CTICC, Cape Town.