Mining investors demanding sustainability
Mining company shareholders are demanding change from an industry whose reputation has been battered by deadly collapses of mine waste storage facilities in Brazil, and Rio Tinto’s destruction of sacred rock shelters in Australia, report Reuters.
Companies are responding with changes to the structure and skillset of their senior management - a shift investors and governance experts say is sorely needed to mitigate risk in an inherently hazardous industry.
“The level of understanding and capability at board level is insufficient at the moment in the mining sector, and it doesn’t yet in our view support the transition of these companies to best practice,” Andy Jones, metals and mining lead at investment manager Federated Hermes, said.
Brazil’s Vale SA - keen to show its dedication to safety and sustainability after two tailings dam failures in less than four years - recently announced the biggest shakeup in its board since it was privatised in 1997.
Seven of the 13 members of the new board set for approval this month have extensive experience in ESG and sustainability-related issues, up from five previously. The company has also added requirements for nominees to have experience in community relations.
AngloGold Ashanti last year appointed as a non-executive director a mining governance adviser to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, Kojo Busia, after the board identified the need to increase its efficacy in ESG oversight, it told Reuters.
Barrick Gold also bolstered its ESG credentials with the appointment of World Bank executive director Anne Kabagambe to its board in November, highlighting her experience in international development.
Some miners have also begun tying executives’ and directors’ bonuses directly to measurable ESG outcomes. Rio Tinto has connected 15% of executives’ annual bonuses to ESG metrics for the first time.
Bonuses for the director of Vale’s executive board for safety are calculated based only on health, safety, and sustainability indicators.
But companies must also improve internal reporting and foster a culture of openness if the industry is to prevent a repeat of past mistakes, governance experts say.
“The remuneration is obviously key in terms of setting incentives, but that on its own doesn’t work unless the board is getting the quality of information and there is a spirit of independent thought and challenge,” said Joanna Hewitt, a partner at law firm Baker McKenzie in London who advises companies on corporate governance.
For boards to exercise proper oversight, directors need access to information that bypasses management, Daniel Smith, a governance advisor with CGI Glass Lewis, told Reuters last November.
To achieve that, a specialist heritage advisor reporting directly to the board could be appointed, or a board could have an ESG subcommittee responsible for stakeholder management, including of traditional owners, he said.
To help investors track their progress, mining companies must publish more data on issues like community engagement, water and air quality, and rehabilitation and closure plans, said Charlotte Valeur, founder of governance advisory firm Global Governance Group.
As a result of investor pressure, more mining companies are reporting so-called scope 3 emissions data, a measure of downstream CO2 emissions by metal consumers. Data transparency is key, says Valeur.
“It has to be deeds, not words,” she said. “What it’s easy to do is have some fluff - but what we want is hard numbers.”
BHP deliberates ditching fossil fuels for greener mining
The world’s biggest miner, Australian-based BHP, is supposedly considering withdrawing from a multi-billion dollar contract, which would see the company generate more than US$2bn due to mounting pressure over aligning its business with ongoing climate concerns and ESG-compliance measures.
Exiting the agreement would mean BHP escalate its distancing from oil and gas and subsequently cut down on the amount of fossil fuels used by the company when mining.
It’s estimated that the petroleum business being debated upon could actually be worth around US$15bn but is still under talks to be put up for sale.
Global Mining Giant Considers Greener Future
BHP has made itself clear that it wants to avoid becoming unable to sell its assets. As competition within the market increases following higher numbers of oil giants wrestling with investors to deal with climate pressure, so too are the number of mining rivals looking to make environmental changes for the future.
However, BHP currently has the upper hand as a stalwart mining company that established itself back in the 1960s, allowing it the time to grow and dominate over other fast-appearing mining competition.
Mike Henry, BHP Chief Executive, has an optimistic outlook for the future of oil and gas despite worries over rising demand to align his business with the Paris Climate Agreement. Henry argues that prices remain promising due to a lack of industry-wide investment.
BHP’s petroleum business won’t be easy to say goodbye to. Forecasted to generate around 6% of profits during the ongoing financial year (US$2bn), and around US$1.6bn revenue produced by BHP petroleum in the six months leading to December 2020, BHP is due to take a hit no matter what agreement they choose.
On the other hand, distancing itself from thermal coal and petroleum would arguably aid the company’s case to possible - and valuable - investors who may be required to fund BHP’s increased output to places such as Australia and Mexico in the near future.
BHP considers cutting billion-dollar contract to aid climate
An exit away from petroleum has the potential to be “a powerful corporate catalyst,” says Dominic Kane, Analyst at JP Morgan.
“We believe an exit would likely ring-fence BHP’s exceptional cash flows for non-fossil fuel organic growth, mergers and acquisitions and generous shareholder distributions since BHP could avoid a major new capital investment phase this decade in petroleum.”
BHP is also set to sanction a giant US$5.7bn Canadian potash mine in August of this year, already seeing potash as a long-term substitute for gas and oil going into the future. The company has also previously announced plans to abandon its 80% share in its joint endeavour with Mitsui, owner of two lower-quality mines in Queensland, Australia.
BHP is scheduled to report its annual results on August 17, after which it may become clearer on whether the company will choose to focus its shift to a low-carbon economy or whether it will stay with its current contract into the coming year.