At this link is the site for a conference described by its organizers in these words:
The Mining for Development Conference 2013 provides an opportunity for governments, communities, companies, industry representatives and civil societies to discuss ways to ensure that mining activity contributes to economic and social development.
Here are details of the organizers:
In partnership with the Australian Government, The University of Western Australia and The University of Queensland have established the International Mining for Development Centre to assist in lifting the quality of life in developing nations through a more sustainable use of mineral and energy resources.
IM4DC commenced operations in October 2011 to assist in improving incomes, employment, enterprise opportunities and life outcomes for people in rural and urban areas of developing countries. IM4DC facilitates establishment of world class mining industries to boost overall economic development. The benefits of the work of IM4DC for developing nations are realised principally through increased skill levels of key personnel within government, universities, research institutions and civil society organisations to bring about:
- Improved policies and practices in the governance and management of extractive industries and their interactions with society and the environment
- Improved legislative frameworks
- Improved knowledge of a country’s resources base
- An ability to continue to build local capacity in minerals governance and mining.
At this link are summaries of the papers being presented at the ongoing conference. Browsing at random through the summaries, I chanced on the following:
“An African Progress Panel chaired by Kofi Annan stated that the key to managing nonrenewable resources successfully is a coherent long-term national strategy, embracing all stakeholders that can convert temporary natural resource wealth into the permanent human capital that can expand opportunities across generations,” said Mr Lowcock.
The panel identified five main components:
1. An enduring contract between governments and citizens sustaining the highest standards of transparency and accountability.
2. Ensuring the benefits are distributed sustainably across society, both by spending on basic services, but also by putting in place the infrastructure and skills needed to foster inclusive growth.
3. Progressively strengthening the linkages between the extractives sector and local markets, maximizing value added.
4. Developing resources in a way that protects and benefits host communities, and safeguards the natural environment
5. Providing civil society groups with the political space to monitor what is going on, including in contracts, concessions and licensing agreements.
This sound so impressive that I am converted. Now which country were we talking about again? Must be Australia, right; or is it Guatemala? It cannot be South Africa, for sure; they cannot afford to pay the workers what they want.
No matter; this ranks high as being the best of the best of conference keynotes. Absolutely unassailable, unarguable, and unimplementable.
Or maybe the country being talked about is Afghanistan. Hear the words of the honorable minister:
His Excellency Mr Wahidullah Shahrani, the Minister of Mines for the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan discussed the nature of these challenges and the opportunities that remain. Mr Shahrani described the vast mineral wealth that lies under Afghani soil, which has a potential value of between US$1 trillion and $US3 trillion dollars – even with less than ten percent of the country’s geology surveyed in detail. Mr Shahrani said that within 10 years mineral extraction could contribute up to $1.5 billion annually to Afghanistan’s economy, and up to US$3 billion in a further three or four years. This would see mining contribute approximately 40 percent of the country’s economy, and lead to the creation of 500,000 long term jobs. But he said the mining sector’s growth to date was hindered by Afghanistan’s history of conflict, and the limitations associated with state ownership and centralised planning. The government has subsequently recognised the importance of the private sector and made changes to its legal and regulatory environment to attract private investment. This has included the transformation of the Ministry for Mines and Petroleum from an owner/operator to a policy maker and regulator.
Can these sentiments survive the pullout of American forces? We surely hope so. Afterall the Chinese are already mining there under the protection of boys from the American MidWest.
Then there is Mrs. Ejigu from Ethopia:
Mrs Ejigu said that to stimulate and diversify the discussion around the topic, they have established the African Mining Development Centre and are encouraging political ownership of these issues among African governments. “Previously, the mining sector in Africa was not linked to social development and it was considered a curse,” she said.“But it was not the commodities that were cursed but the management of them that was a curse. This has to be changed.”
She says that political leaders in Africa must take ownership and link the development of resources to social and economic development of their countries, to take their people out of poverty. That means changing the mindset of mining companies. “Just extracting and going is no longer good enough,” Mrs Ejigu said. She noted that the Ethiopian government is committed to the mining sector.“The wealth that can be generated can never be a curse but viewed as a critical part of our growth and will support poverty reduction.”
I cannot resist closing this piece with the following rant that hit my email this morning. I do not know who wrote it, but it is radical and at odds with the positive tone of the above-mentioned conference. Shows there is still a lot to do.
I think we all need a history lesson and some critical independent thinking. Following the multiple dam busts of the 1990s (Omai,Los Frailes, Marinduque) the global industry launched a branding campaign asserting mining as “sustainable” with a focus on environmental sustainability and set itself the goal of getting that language into the text. Around that time I can remember a PDAC session where one of the industry presenters was showcasing environmental processes to assure minimal environmental impacts from massive waste rock and tailings impoundments stating “we are really a waste management industry.” In the 2000s social issues came to the fore,human rights abuses, the realities of the resource curse, and lo and behold, the industry rebranded itself (starting with a series of meetings organized by ICMM in the early 2000s) and started to assert, against near overwhelming real world evidence, that mining equals development. This was paired with a major push to get language linking mining and development into the Rio text. And lo and behold, a couple of weeks ago in a multi-stakeholder meeting I heard a mining executive claim ” we are really a development industry.”
If just saying so over and over, and getting language into global texts, made it true we would all be better off. But hard facts and reality on the ground the world over seriously get in the way of this nice story. It is time to recognize that the emperor has no clothes. Large scale mining is still what it has always been, a business with huge returns for a very small elite based on extracting non-renewable and finite wealth from the earth. The local environmental and social impacts during mining are still devastating with more losers than winners, particularly in developing countries and in remote and vulnerable communities in developed countries, and exacerbate poverty in ways not offset by CSR or local development projects. The national impacts of investor-state agreements that favour the company, and of transfer pricing arrangements and capital flight to tax havens around the world is equally devastating at the level of national economies in most developing countries. And when we start to look seriously
at the very long term legacy costs that the industry is still not willing to take on (re: Robert’s story below), we begin to realize just how dearly and how long term we are all going to pay for the outsized profits and wealth accumulation of a few today. In Canada alone there are thousands of legacy sites that the tax payers now have to pay to clean up and manage: a bill that is already in the billions of dollars – and counting….
Those who are not fooled by branding exercises and wishful thinking are the growing numbers of community members who oppose mining the world over, often at great costs to themselves, and those who are fighting to make protective provisions such as FPIC real, and the growing number of governments who are taking a harder look at the contracts they sign, insisting on better returns, banning certain kinds of mining altogether (at the risk of being sued), or insisting on permit conditions that protect the state and tax payers in poor countries from future costs.