Investors are under increasing pressure to shun businesses with a high-carbon footprint, but an overemphasis on the “E” in ESG risks leaving developing nations behind, says Mark Bristow, president and CEO at Barrick Gold Corporation (NYSE: GOLD) (TSX: ABX).
With a sizable portion of Barrick’s 17-country portfolio of gold and copper mines and projects located in the poorer regions of the world, Mr. Bristow says the greatest benefit a mining company can bestow on a host nation and its communities is to affect positive social change through job creation, infrastructure expansion, skills transfer, economic opportunity generation and general quality of life improvements. These countries do not enjoy the same access to clean energy as their more developed counterparts do, but their consumption is far lower. Africa’s entire greenhouse gas emissions are insignificant compared to the world’s two greatest economies – the U.S. and China – but compliance is forcing investors back into safe jurisdictions, further threatening the ability of emerging nations to develop.
“The E in ESG has been receiving much of the attention lately, but I would argue that the social dimension is equally important,” says Mr. Bristow. “I am particularly concerned that the issue of poverty – perhaps the greatest problem facing mankind – is not more prominently on the agenda. The world’s poorest people live in the poorest countries – and easing their lot will require a global and not just a local response.”
A good business also has to be a good citizen, particularly in emerging countries, where mining companies have a moral obligation as well as a commercial motivation to help develop economies and uplift people, he says. “If the gold-mining industry is to survive in the changing world, it must recognize and acknowledge its duty to all stakeholders, and make sure that they benefit fairly from the value it creates.”
Prior to its merger with Barrick in 2019, Randgold Resources built and ran world-class mines in Africa for 20 years. Thanks to the productive partnerships it forged with the governments of its host countries, the company overcame the many challenges presented by remote locations, a lack of infrastructure, a shortage of skills and even the occasional outbreaks of civil unrest and political change.
President and CEO at Barrick Gold Corporation
This partnership philosophy, which has since been embedded throughout the enlarged business, proved a key factor in Barrick’s successful COVID-19 containment programs. It effectively buffered the impact of the pandemic on the business and on people, and also enabled the enterprise to provide much-needed and welcomed support to its host countries. The partnership strategy is also credited for resolving long-standing legacy issues, notably the resurrection of the North Mara and Bulyanhulu mines through a formal partnership with the Tanzanian government.
“This is not to say we underestimate the gravity of the environmental challenge,” says Mr. Bristow. “Barrick has a clear roadmap for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, which is based on climate science and operational realities rather than wishful thinking or long-dated aspirations, and this is constantly reviewed in the light of technological advances. Identification and realization of the opportunities these offered enabled us to update our 2030 emissions reduction target from 10 per cent to 30 per cent against a 2018 baseline. Our ultimate aim is to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.”
Barrick’s roadmap includes energy-efficiency measures across the group, ambitious plans for more solar power in Mali and Nevada, and the conversion of a power station in Nevada from coal to natural gas. The roadmap also details Barrick’s achievements to date with new battery technology installed to augment its hydropower stations in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the conversion of its power station in the Dominican Republic from heavy fuel oil to cleaner energy sources.
“In addition to addressing environmental challenges, you also need to run your operations in a responsible and sustainable way. We call it earning your licence to operate,” says Mr. Bristow. “You do this by creating long-term value for all stakeholders and contributing to the social and economic development of your host countries and communities.”
Advertising feature produced by Randall Anthony Communications with the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.