/ 20 February 2023

The mining industry’s role in addressing the climate crisis and the just energy transition

African Mining Indaba 2023
Anglo American Platinum CEO Natascha Viljoen at the keynote panel debate: Security of supply – threat or opportunity in Africa’s metals and minerals supercycle context? (Photo: David Harrison)

Africa must capitalise on the shift to renewable energy, and process its minerals instead of just exporting them

The world is moving into another super cycle — a sustained period of expansion, driven by robust growth in demand for products and services. These events are causing a rise in demand for raw and manufactured materials, and demand for these resources often outpaces what producers can supply.

As we move toward a just energy transition and strive to decarbonise our economies, the South African mining industry must provide the critical minerals needed to ensure that this shift happens successfully. “We as an industry have an important role to play in shaping the world we live in,” noted Duncan Wanblad, Group Chief Executive at Anglo American. 

During his keynote address at the Investing in African Mining Indaba, held in Cape Town last week, he stressed that industry and government must come together to unblock and unlock the barriers to developing and maximising the economic and social value that our mineral resources can bring to society at large. “For Africa’s many mining countries, there is a great opportunity to take the supply of metals and minerals to an entirely new level, and use this economic momentum as a catalyst to attract investments in clean energy, and undoubtedly drive accelerated economic growth. This opportunity is surely too good to miss out [on].”

But in order to get this right, real and tangible action is needed, noted Ian Sanders, Global Mining and Metals Sector Leader at Deloitte. Management teams and board members have to stop talking and start acting, he said. One mining business that is taking action is Anglo American. The brand’s much-discussed green haul truck is the world’s first zero-emission hydrogen-powered vehicle capable of carrying a 290-tonne payload. 

According to Anglo American Platinum CEO Natascha Viljoen, not only does this truck form part of Anglo’s broader decarbonisation strategy, it also shines a spotlight on South Africa, and the capabilities of South African businesses. “Earlier, our president called on business to get involved, and I think we underestimate the level of urgency there is for us to do just that — to do what we can do, and really start to make things happen,” she remarked. 

“I think we can all agree that the energy transition presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Africa. I’d describe this transition as being similar to how the industrial revolution transformed the Western world,” noted Fortune Mojapelo, CEO at Bushveld Minerals. Rather than only looking at what Africa can do to ensure the steady supply of the minerals needed to power and enable the renewables revolution, several speakers at the event highlighted the importance of transforming the mining industry value chain. There needs to be a movement away from “pit to port” and towards adding different steps along the supply chain — such as processing and production  — so that the commodities we supply to the rest of the world can add extra value to our local economies.

This, many agreed, is an important step to ensure that Africa gets the most out of the global energy transition — by better capitalising upon and leveraging the important minerals that lie beneath her soil. 
— Joanne Carew