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Embracing Change, Building Trust: Our journey continues

26 February 2024

Last year, I stood before you on this very stage to say something that was difficult for me to admit, and perhaps hard for you to hear.

Keynote speech to the 33rd BMO Capital Markets Global Metals, Mining & Critical Minerals Conference
Rohitesh Dhawan, President and CEO, ICMM (as written rather than as delivered)

That we as the mining industry did not enjoy the broad-based trust of society, and this threatens our access to permits, talent, the support of local communities, and capital. Today, I’d like to tell you what we have done about it and where things stand – spoiler alert, it’s positive.

Many of you will have been at the World Economic Forum last month. The theme of Davos was, funnily enough, ‘Rebuilding trust’.

This shows that the mining industry isn’t unique in in this challenge, although we do seem to have a particularly big hill to climb.

On its own merits, action on nature makes business sense.

Of the issues seen as most critical for trust building, the state of our natural world was a standout. This is about what companies and industries are doing to halt and reverse the catastrophic loss of nature, with a million species at risk of extinction and life-sustaining ecosystems on the brink of collapse.  

In fact, at a major WEF gathering on nature, there was a feeling that there was one sector whose actions on protecting nature stood above all others. That if every other industry did what this one was doing, then we could bring the planet back from the brink – and create huge economic value in the process. That this is what collective leadership looks like, and what others should aspire to.

That sector wasn’t agriculture, which impacts nearly half of the Earth’s surface and is the number one driver of biodiversity loss. It wasn’t pharmaceuticals, even though 70% of the drugs used to treat cancer come from products inspired by nature. And it wasn’t even technology, the darling of the ESG movement. The sector celebrated at Davos for leadership on nature was in fact… mining.

More precisely, it was the commitment that the 24 members of ICMM made in Davos to contribute to a nature positive future, guided by the Global Biodiversity Framework, which includes amongst other things;

  1. Minimising our direct impact by not operating in World Heritage Sites and achieving at least no net loss of biodiversity by closure at all mine sites against a 2020 baseline.
  2. Work with our customers and suppliers to identify risks to nature from their actions (essentially the Scope 3 of nature) and support partnerships to halt and reverse nature loss.
  3. Restoring, conserving and regenerating landscapes particularly through partnerships with Indigenous People and local communities, and
  4. To help our financial system value nature – looking at all of you here – by improving the quality of data and helping develop sustainable financing mechanisms.

Each of the 24 CEOs of ICMM members have personally supported and embraced this commitment, but I want to recognise 5 in particular, all of whom are here today, who led this effort. It was Chaired by Jonathan Price from Teck Resources, and included Jakob Stausholm from Rio Tinto, Eduardo Bartolomeo from Vale, and Hilde Aasheim from Norsk Hydro – with the overall leadership of Ivan Arriagada of Antofagasta as Chair of ICMM.

On its own merits, action on nature makes business sense. It can speed up permitting as regulators and communities have greater confidence in the management of impacts on the environment. It can reduce and smooth out the cost of closure through early and progressive rehabilitation. It can strengthen our relationship with Indigenous People in recognition of their unique relationship with nature. And it can ease the regulatory burden by getting ahead of mandatory disclosures and actions that are definitely coming.

These direct benefits aside, leadership on nature also offers a chance – perhaps the best chance – to finally shift the negative perception of mining.

Last year, I told you about a survey which asked people the extent to which they felt different sectors fulfilled their responsibilities to society, where mining ranked last.

If we manage to pull this off – and you are critical to its success in ways I will explain - it has the potential to fundamentally transform society’s trust in mining.

Since then, the same survey asked people – and keep in mind this is over 30,000 people across 30 countries - what is the most important thing the sector could do that could change their negative view of mining, and there was a clear winner – action on nature.

If this commitment on nature is proof that leaders in the industry are showing collective leadership on the issues that matter to our stakeholders, I have something even more exciting to share with you. If we manage to pull this off – and you are critical to its success in ways I will explain - it has the potential to fundamentally transform society’s trust in mining.

I’m pleased to confirm that ICMM is working with the Copper Mark, the World Gold Council, and the Mining Association of Canada to bring our four individual standards for responsible mining into one consolidated global standard and multi-stakeholder oversight system.

This responds to the clear signal we received that the confusion and overlap in sustainability performance standards was a real pain in the neck for everyone. And so, this consolidated standard will give you as investors clear, globally consistent, assured information on responsible mining practices to shape your investment decisions. It will save companies time and effort conforming to different yet at times overlapping Standards and free up resources to focus on actual performance improvements. And it will give our Stakeholders the consistent information they need to understand our total impacts and to engage with us.

The key to this effort is scale. Once it is adopted between the four partners in this effort, 700 sites representing over a third of the industry would use the same Standard. It will have graduated levels of performance, so leaders can distinguish themselves, yet less mature operators have a clear on-ramp to embrace responsible mining. This is particularly important to ensure that the thousands of mining companies globally who don’t currently follow any voluntary code of good practice are brought ‘in the tent’, and thus minimise the risk of harm to people and the planet from irresponsible practices, and the resulting impacts on the sector’s reputation.

A standard is only worth the faith that others place in it. That’s why while this effort is being driven by the four Partner organisations, it is strongly shaped and influenced by our stakeholders through two Advisory groups working closely together – one comprising of implementing companies, and the other of representatives from local communities, indigenous peoples, NGOs, investors, downstream customers, and multilateral institutions. This helps ensure that we retain the best of the four existing Standards and avoid at all costs any backsliding or lowest common denominator outcomes.

And that’s also the reason why the Standard will have an independent multi-stakeholder oversight system and a robust assurance process. The governance will ensure that no group, not least the industry, is able to unduly control the Standard, and that power is shared equitably between the industry and our stakeholders, which is at the heart of building trust.

We have been working at this for over a year now, and we aim to launch the Standard in 2025. Between now and then will be two Public Consultations, the first around June or July this year, so the widest set of stakeholders have the chance to shape the Standard and how it is governed and assured.

So, having admitted last year to the trust challenge we as an industry face, I’m pleased to have been able to tell you about the two key ways we are working to address it – by showing leadership on the issues that matter to our stakeholders such as nature, and by consolidating and simplifying sustainability standards. There is already evidence that these are changing the perception and reputation of the industry with governments, NGOs, customers, and others.   

You can count on us to drive these efforts, but your role is essential. I have three asks of you:

  • If you’re not an ICMM member, or if your investee company is not an ICMM member – please follow or ask them to follow ICMM standards. You did this effectively on the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management such that over half the industry by market cap is now engaged in the Standard, and we need the same momentum from you on issues like Nature, Scope 3 emissions, and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.
  • Please tell others – particularly senior government figures, downstream customers and NGOs – about the consolidation of mining standards and ask them to support the effort. We all gain from a simplification of the Standards landscape.
  • Please support and reward the efforts of the 24 ICMM members. They are willing to stand up and be counted to lead the industry to operate responsibly, and they deserve recognition for the value they create for the industry and for you.

I’ll end with a simple thought. If you’ve ever tried to become healthier, build better habits, or in some other way become a better person, you know that the difference between success and failure is often the support of family, friends or a mentor. Magic happens when other people are invested in our success.

I believe that our industry is now in that place – where others are invested in the success of mining. This is in part because of an understanding of how critical we are to the energy transition, but I’d also like to believe due to decades of demonstrated commitment to responsible mining from leading companies – although not without tragic accidents and major blunders. And so, we are finally in a place where governments, customers and even many NGOs want to see the industry succeed – for everyone’s sake. This is incredibly energising.  

But this support is rightly fragile and conditional. Only by delivering on our commitments and continuing to showing leadership on the issues that matter to society can we earn and sustain the trust of others. Then perhaps, mining will be recognised not just for lighting the path to a nature positive future, but also to a kinder, more united world.

Thank you.

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Find out more about our nature commitment here.