Working with the mining and energy sector can be a tough gig for a conservationist. The scale of potential risks and negative impacts on communities, ecosystems, climate and freshwater sources is often — and quite rightly — front and center in any discussion over how a “green-blooded” conservationist can work with the mining and energy sector.
So why do we do it? The simple reason is that we have no choice.
The strong dependence of developing country economies on the mining and energy sector is growing. By 2010, 75% of mineral-dependent countries were low or middle income. That means that the mining and energy sector is an important engine for development, building infrastructure and creating jobs these countries want.
CI’s mission to support national governments in achieving responsible development demands that we work with the sector to encourage and demonstrate environmentally and socially responsible projects. Simply put, if we don’t work with the sector, it has the potential to literally undermine our efforts with other development partners.
Fortunately, my job is a little easier these days. Rio Tinto is well known for its commitment to achieving a net positive impact on biodiversity. This has set a precedent for the company’s peers, many of whom have begun to re-assess their own policies or at least begin to test out similar approaches.
As national governments continued to struggle with establishing common frameworks to tackle climate change last week in Qatar, it was refreshing to hear one of our current partners, BHP Billiton, make some pragmatic statements about their dependence on coal and the implications for their business in the long term. The impacts of climate change — driven largely by poor energy choices — on the sustainable production of energy itself is something few companies have publicly commented on.
I hope that these comments made by BHP open a door to a new way of thinking — and acting — for the world’s mining and energy companies. We all need energy, but we also need to be smart about how we get it.
Conrad Savy is director of responsible mining and energy in CI’s Center for Environmental Leadership in Business (CELB). Learn more about how CI works with companies in this sector to ensure more sustainable practices.