Bauxite mining most vulnerable to socio-political risks

Environmental, social and governance (ESG) risks have the potential to impact future mining operations, according to the University of Queensland (UQ).

Researchers from UQ’s Sustainable Minerals Institute (SMI) designed a matrix to assess the ESG context of over 600 individual copper, iron and bauxite orebodies and analysed how it may affect global supply.

Each orebody was judged against eight risks, which are waste, water, biodiversity, land uses, indigenous peoples, social vulnerability, political fragility and approval and permitting.

SMI researcher Eléonore Lèbre said majority of the 296 copper orebodies, 324 iron orebodies and 50 bauxite orebodies examined are in complex ESG context risks.

“Iron, copper and bauxite, the main source of aluminium, are already the three most widely used metals in the world, representing 95 per cent of all industrial metals produced annually,” Lèbre explained.

“Demand is expected to double, if not triple by 2050. Even now, numerous mining projects stall or are abandoned due to materialised ESG risk, so it will become more frequent if there isn’t major innovation in project design and development.”

The SMI discovered the ESG risk findings have the potential to significantly impact the supply of metals globally.

Iron orebodies showed a mix of high and low risks, with high risks generally being characterised by social vulnerability, political fragility and approval and permitting.

“Almost all the bauxite orebodies we studied are located in high risk contexts, making it the highest risk of the three commodities,” SMI Complex Orebodies program leader Rick Valenta said.

“Copper orebodies are more evenly distributed, but water and waste risks are prevalent, with 65 per cent of orebodies located in regions with medium to extremely high water risk.

“Our intention is for this methodology to be used by a range of stakeholders, such as governments at the approval stage of new mining projects, and by investors or multinational mining companies.”