Sustainability and the Future

08.01.2024 | 15:13 Home / News / Articles /
#John Harker
John Harker is a leading international expert on responsible mining and multi-stakeholder processes. He was the President and Vice Chancellor of Cape Breton University in Canada. In 1999/2000 he was asked by the Government of Canada to review whether the presence and conduct of the country’s then largest oil company was exacerbating the Sudanese civil war. Dr Harker previously worked for the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and advised President Nelson Mandela on the creation of a National Development Agency in South Africa.

John Harker

Achieving and maintaining Sustainability is a challenge which concerns many people and institutions, businesses, communities, and governments, today. In advance of the opening of Cop 28 in Dubai, the head of the body which represents the world’s major mining companies, ICMM, focused on “Scope 3 emissions”, those in the “supply or value” chains of a company, rather than simply being an outcome of a company’s controlled operations.

And this, echoed by the Cop delegates, suggests that today, if companies want to ward off Climate change, and “Go Green”, they really have to look around them, and not only at their own operations. And government must help; communities too. Otherwise, Sustainability will elude them.

Sustainability must be recognized as multi-faceted, and unachievable if viewed only through one lens, held by one viewer, and then often for too long.

Sustainability demands much of us, and the  ZCMC Sustainability Report released in Yerevan in December points the way.

ZCMC commits to establishing systems in line with international and industry practice.

When I read this, I was immediately reminded of the first time I visited Abu Dhabi, the seat of the Oil giant, ADNOC, a company much in the global news recently because of the role of its CEO, Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, as President of Cop 28.

Back when I was a university president, the Premier of our Province, Nova Scotia, asked me to accompany him in a meeting with the ADNOC Executive in Abu Dhabi. This I was pleased to do.

The meeting went well, and at one point the ADNOC CEO was pleased to tell us that the company had, over the years, improved its policies and procedures, to the point that it was fully able to follow the best in international standards.

My Premier nodded, approvingly. I went a bit further. I expressed to the ADNOC leadership my conviction that the company should consider not just meeting international standards but becoming a key player in formulating such standards.

And the same thought occurred to me when considering the ZCMC commitment to effective implementation of Sustainability policies and ESG frameworks.

Of course, any such commitment places a premium on a well-trained work-force. Which ZCMC understands as it moves to establish a state of the art training centre.

After the meeting I have just described, my Premier flew back to Canada, while I paid a visit to a unique “training centre” created by Masdar, a company linked to ADNOC, and now partnered with Armenia’s ANIF.

The centre was actually a university, the Masdar Institute, one entirely solar-powered, and very much focused on the sciences and how they could help with various challenges.

In recent years, the Institute was re-named and re-cast as the Mohamed Bin Zayed University for Artificial Intelligence.

Perhaps ZCMC and Armenia should consider talking to the UAE about collaboration on the creation of the new training centre for ZCMC, one which could include a focus, through new technologies, on the issues facing Responsible Mining today?

Not many years ago, the mining and minerals sector in Australia recognized the need for a serious “re-vamping” of the apprenticeships, or skills training, for the sector.

The government responded with significant funding for revitalizing existing apprenticeship schemes and creating new ones. But ESG, the focus on Environmental, Social, and Governance issues, made no appearance, an oversight of some importance.

Hopefully, a collaboration between ZCMC and Masdar, as suggested here, and embracing “internationalism”, could emerge as a world-beater, and have an impact on the challenges facing the company, the sector, and Humanity.

Of course, Humanity has a long history, and hopefully a long future. On my first visit to Armenia, I was astounded at being able to walk inside a caravanserai, built in the Fourteenth Century to house overnight traders making their way between China and Europe.

A future which builds on that past might be one where the focus is on Sustainability, recognizing, as the CEO of ZCMC does, that it is a journey, not a destination.

And as he has said, it is one which can be a catalyst for change in local communities. And, of course, other communities outside Syunik Province.

The ZCMC Sustainability Report shows us that the company is conscious of the need for Sustainable supply chains, and, in fact, sees them as extensions of the company’s core values, especially ethical conduct and sustainable business practices.

The importance of this perspective will be magnified should ZCMC take up the commitment of the ICMM, to not only tackle, and curb, the carbon emissions at the mine or processing plant, but deal with these well along the supply chain, or value chain.

The co-operation which such a necessary ambition will require, and build, could, over time, lead to the emergence of a global Responsible Mining standard.

Yes, Responsible Mining is both necessary, and demanding! And ZCMC has made clear that Armenia must develop the ability to transform its mining, to being more “green minded” and thus able to catch the wave of demand for Renewables without harming communities, or those who live in them.

The company believes that “electrification” will increase global demand for Copper by 50%, and “Green” uses for Copper will quadruple by 2030.

When Cop 28 came to an end in Dubai, the delegates agreed to commit to tripling renewable energy capacity world-wide by 2030, and to substantially reducing non-CO2 emissions, in particular Methane, by 2030.

Global electrification is clearly at the centre of tripling renewable energy capacity, and Copper plays a key role in renewable energy systems. More renewable energy means more Copper.

It needs far more cables and wiring than are in use today. High-voltage cables are mostly made of Aluminium, but often they have a layer of Copper added, and most low-voltage wiring has a high share of Copper.

And do these estimates include those markets for Copper yet to be created?

At the height of the recent Covid pandemic, it was clear that the best available treatments, developed by Pfizer and Moderna, required refrigeration, and in Africa, this was, is, sadly lacking.

If there is to be a next-time, I will certainly hope that Copper miners and metal fabricators will consider combining with Solar power providers to fill this dreadful gap in Humanity’s arsenal.

Yes, there will be other “gaps” to be filled. Gaps as yet unidentified. Which is where ESG as a force for Sustainability should come into its own.

Far too often, I am made aware of ESG either being little more than boxes to be ticked, a tool for Greenwashing, or a managerial extension of Risk Avoidance policy. I am much more attracted by ESG when it reflects “positive, purposeful, dialogue, real engagement, with and among stakeholders”.

This must happen, and can happen. It can identify avenues not just for avoiding risk or disaster, but point to ways for building profitability, enhancing community, attaining other good outcomes.

But how?

Real ESG is, for me, all about engagement, not ticking boxes.

Of course, any company  striving for Sustainability has to deal with its current reality, which might relate to the lands around them, or the waters which flow through these lands.

Fortunately, the importance of Water has been well understood by a host of authorities who have been involved, these past few years, in “Participatory Water Monitoring”, where all stakeholders, from companies to communities, to critics, work together to ascertain impacts and remedies.

In some countries, Canada being one of them, even universities have focused on this approach, and, with the goals of “staying green” and “Decarbonization” fully demanding our attention, this involvement must grow.

Perhaps ZCMC, and indeed Armenia, will give thought to examining the broad possibilities of Participatory Water Monitoring?

For me, this goes hand in hand with a determined focus on Renewable Energy.

I should admit that back in 2019, the China Daily, apparently the most widely read English-language newspaper, carried my plea that an E-Silk Road be built from Europe to China, recognizing the rapid and vast take-up of electric vehicles and the need for actions which could both stimulate economic activity and help with the fight against Climate change.

Of course, that road has not been built, the Climate situation has worsened, witness the fact that November 2023 was the hottest month in recorded human history, and not only temperatures but tempers are rising.

A Value Chain as essentially an E Highway through Armenia could help achieve great things, certainly including Sustainability, for companies and country.

And action of this sort should appeal to Europe. The EU has, in recent months, talked about desiring valuable relations with Armenia, unfortunately a country lacking Energy resources for export, but surely an attractive partner as host to an Electric vehicle Corridor between Europe and China? Using renewable energy!

In fact, a few years ago, the EU created a response mechanism, the Gateway, for major projects like this. So far, it has not been fully accessed, and thus is not as influential as it hoped.

And I would argue that both Europe and Armenia would understand the impact that such a Corridor could have on “supply chains”, or “value chains”, close to home or well beyond Armenia’s borders.

This reflects the growing realization that while companies must address their on-site concerns, they must also do everything they can to not only limit their “on-site” emissions, each has to look outward, to where their supplies come from, and where their needed product goes to.

This reality was illustrated, compellingly, in the Newsletter of the ICMM issued on the very eve of the Cop 28 meeting.

In making his unavoidable case for mining and mineral companies looking beyond their compounds at all points on the supply and value chains, the ICMM President also focused, yes, on Electric Vehicles, which are already transforming millions of lives, and are related to a vast network of suppliers and their communities.

It was interesting to me that at the Cop 28 event, the increasing use of EV’s was forcefully noted, as was the march towards “green power”, through interesting deal-making.

Masdar, for example, has now purchased a 49% stake in a North Sea wind power project. And earlier this year, nine countries bordering on the North Sea committed to developing it as a “green power plant”, with wind and renewable hydrogen at a “massive scale”.

The aim is to have off-shore wind capacity of at least 300GW by 2050.

It should be noted that Masdar remains busy closer to home, signing major green energy deals in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. The company CEO has indicated that Masdar is very interested in hybrid solar and wind projects, which would certainly require Copper!

I admit to knowing too little about Armenia’s potential for harnessing either solar or wind power, but I do believe that the Armenia-Masdar partnership, a key element of the ANIF, understands this potential, and could perhaps focus on how striving for “Green Power” might promote Sustainability for Armenia and its businesses.

I was interested to learn that former US Vice President Al Gore announced at the Cop gathering the emergence of a “tracking system”, one using “machine learning” and other technology to help companies identify greenhouse gas emissions and go on to “decarbonize” their supply chains.

And decarbonization is essential if the Climate Change Challenge is to be met. The ICMM President , Ro Dhawan, made this clear in his reaction to the agreement reached at Cop 28, a meeting which went further than its predecessors in placing mining and minerals higher in their concerns.  Dhawan notes that every sector must play its part, and the ICMM has now published a “Guidance” to support companies which set impactful targets for emissions reductions.

Canada’s major newspaper, the Globe and Mail, has just written about “The Decarbonization Challenge: unlock opportunities or erode value”.

Value for businesses, their employees, AND the local communities.

Earlier in these remarks, I mentioned that Copper remains an underpinning of all our communities, sometimes in ways for too long unrecognized, but now excitingly discovered.

Recently the Canadian on-line journal, Mining.com, carried a piece with the eye-catching news that researchers at the University of California Los Angeles, UCLA, are using Copper to produce a much cheaper anti-cancer drug.

They were concerned that a specific chemical used in a vital anti-cancer drug can cost up to US$3,200 per gram. They devised a way to use Copper instead, in a process which brings the cost down to a staggering US$3 per gram!

Copper is absolutely key to Humanity’s survival in many ways. Armenia is home to copper mining, gold too, and also has a great future ahead, if it puts its energy behind the commitment of COP 28 to Decarbonize through tripling renewable energy, and seriously considers just how its partnering with the UAE, through the ANIF-Masdar initiative, might become a lead element in how Humanity goes beyond COP 28 to a Safer World.
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