The mining sector has come out tops as the industry most likely to be affected most by the world’s worsening water crises, and South Africa’s mining sector is not immune.
The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has warned of the water risks facing the mining industry after an exhaustive analysis of some 3 174 operating mine sites.
“With the extractives sector suffering over $20-billion in water-related financial impacts in 2018 alone . . . this report highlights the companies, commodities, river basins and countries facing the highest overall water risks, including floods and water scarcity, as well as reputational and regulatory risks,” the WWF said in a statement this week.
Aside from agriculture, no sector is as exposed to water risks as the mining sector, it said.
With the new information at hand, the WWF is calling on companies and investors to urgently assess and respond to the growing water risks to their businesses and assets.
“Mining companies face substantial water risks from the reputational threat of potential disasters to the direct financial impact of extreme floods and water scarcity on their operations – physical risks that will be exacerbated by climate change,” said WWF global water stewardship lead and author of the report Alexis Morgan.
“Investors can no longer turn a blind eye to these water risks: they must start demanding rigorous assessments of water risks – accounting for basin and operational water risk and water stewardship responses – before investing in mining operations.”
The report shows that India, China, South Africa, Mexico and Peru are the countries that are most at risk, with commodities such chromite, coal, palladium, platinum, bauxite and lead topping the risk list.
The most exposed large public mining companies are Coal India, followed by Grupo Mexico and China Shenhua Energy, the report further comments.
The analysis shows that the world’s two largest mining companies, BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto, are exposed to lower-than-average physical and regulatory water risks, but higher-than-average reputational water risks.
“Some mining companies have taken significant steps to assess and address their specific water risks but the sector has not done nearly enough to collectively respond to water risks,” said Morgan.
“Our analysis underlines the scale of the risks posed by water to mining operations: the industry needs to transform its approach to mitigate them.”
The report’s analysis represents a first step towards a future in which asset-level data contributes to more sophisticated and accurate environmental, social and governance assessment for investors and companies reliant upon metals and mining.
The analysis was conducted through WWF’s Water Risk Filter using the S&P Global Market Intelligence mining database.