Big change is coming in commodities. That means big winners… and big losers.
With the industrial revolution (and subsequent population booms) came an increased need for base metals and other commodities. With these changes came the need for more housing, industrialisation, and food production, increasing clearing of natural spaces and larger urban areas. Subsequently a massive loss of habitat and biodiversity worldwide.
We can’t change the past, but we can build the future better. Change in how we produce commodities is long overdue and is imperative to lowering the carbon footprint of the rest of the supply chain. After all, a fish rots from the head: if we can remove the dirt from commodity production, then the downstream supply chain has a cleaner starting point.
Shrinking the Globe’s Carbon Footprint
The Paris Climate Agreement legally binds 196 parties to ensuring climate increases are limited to 1.5 degrees celsius – a stimulating prompt to make drastic changes. 7 years on from signing the Agreement in 2015, progress from each country is a mixed bag. According to the Climate Action Tracker, no country has achieved a limit of 1.5C. 8 countries, including the UK and Nigeria, are “Almost Sufficient”.
The damage to biodiversity through commodity extraction has already been done – deforestation and clearing land for agriculture use or mining sites had a detrimental effect on species diversity, with known and undiscovered species becoming or nearing extinction. Polluting the seas with chemicals and material waste has done the same to marine life.
We can’t bring species back from extinction, however we can find less damaging methods of producing the materials human-kind requires for existence (and to keep the global economy from crashing). The use of “less” in that sentence is key: no matter what alternatives are developed and adopted, there will always be an adverse environmental impact at the source or down the supply chain. The fundamental technologies that will address these challenges are:
- Green hydrogen to replace fossil fuel requirements for melting steels,
- Creating electric transport free from oils and fuels,
- Renewable energy productions,
- Using recycled materials in a circular production loop,
- Direct atmospheric CO2 extraction filters.
However, as already mentioned, even in the best-case transition scenario, these fundamental technologies will still require losses to land and sea life, green spaces, and will risk the further loss of biodiversity and important habitats.
Reduce How Much We Take, Reuse What We Already Have
Sustainability and mining make strange bedfellows: raw materials are finite and aren’t able to make a circular economy. However, measures are in place to ensure companies work to protect and restore flora and fauna at their sites. These biodiversity management plans are well established and are taken seriously – external pressures from stakeholders, investors, activist groups, and governments make sure of it. Analysing and mapping the site’s existing biome, species relocation, storing fauna in nurseries, minimising land clearance, preserving and reintroducing topsoil, and leaving wildlife corridors through mining sites are a few of the measures. Conservation measures above ground don’t extend to below ground.
If we want to take conservation below ground, we have to start recycling. Regarding aluminium, there’s more than enough in circulation to warrant not mining for more bauxite. Collect, recycle, and repurpose what we already have and we can focus efforts on reintroducing wildlife to areas once home to landfill. This applies to all base metals.
One such continent with an abundance of metal in landfills is Africa. In a perfect storm of post-Covid recovery, a buzz of investor activity, and significant access to feedstock, Africa has a unique developing nation opportunity to become a powerhouse in sustainability by industrialising Africa through investment in projects that:
- directly reduce environmental impact and ensure social responsibility,
- are committed to adopting innovative and best environmentally-friendly processes, provide the best springboard for ensuring the future of Africa is best positioned for reaching global climate targets, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and an economic market most desirable to national and foreign investors.
Bypassing this opportunity neglects our generation, the next one and the one after that. We can’t replace bauxite reserves, therefore no matter how considerate bauxite mining conservation measures are, unless we switch to secondary production, the youngest of our generation will be left in the impossible situation of having to replace primary production overnight to prevent the demise of the aluminium industry.
To learn more about how Romco are scaling up secondary production in emerging markets, and leveraging the unlimited untapped value of our already mined resources, subscribe to our news at https://romcometals.com/news-insight/, or visit romcometals.com