2020 Trends: A Year in Review

Even with 2020’s unpredictability, some clear global trends emerged: (1) corporate social responsibility by the copper industry prioritized people over profits–supporting and helping local communities battle the pandemic; (2) policymakers and lawmakers focused on jumpstarting economies, with a larger emphasis on the clean energy transition; and (3) an increased commitment to responsible production by the mining industry. As this year ends, it is important to reflect on these three key trends.

1. Prioritizing corporate social responsibility during the pandemic

The coronavirus offered a unique opportunity for the copper industry to rethink corporate responsibility. Proactive players exercised agility, innovation and collaboration to protect their employees and surrounding communities. Their swift actions mitigated the pandemic’s effects on remote villages and allowed employees to play an active role in their communities.

For example, Swedish miner and smelter, Boliden, prioritized employee health and safety by encouraging its staff to take advantage of its benefits, such as taking an extended paid leave of absence. Markus Nordqvist, a qualified biomedical analyst, was the first to use this policy to help Skellefteå Hospital’s chemical laboratory. For a few months, Markus lent his expertise to the hospital when resources were strained.

In Mexico, Grupo Mexico formed a partnership with the government to construct new hospitals in rural communities and focused on equipping the country’s healthcare workers with ventilators and supplies. Additionally, Anglo-American’s pandemic response was recognized by the World Economic Forum for providing essential support to host communities around the world—including Africa, Australia and the Americas.

These are just a few examples of how ICA members stepped up during the global pandemic, highlighting a clear trend of prioritizing social responsibility and community well-being.

2. Economic recovery relies on the clean energy transition

As global economies begin to recover, an interesting trend has emerged in Asia, Europe and North America—the acceleration of the economic engine through the clean energy transition. This global shift to clean energy to aid economic recovery is embedded in several key recovery policies.

China’s 14th Five-Year Plan calls for aggressive sustainable energy goals to reach carbon neutrality by 2060. In Brussels, the European Green Deal’s implementation calls for clean energy for green recovery and growth—requiring large amounts of raw materials, including copper, for electric vehicles, smart grids and renewable energy systems. In the United States, President-elect Biden’s Build Back Better economic recovery plan focuses on modern, sustainable infrastructure and a clean energy future. Each plan calls for increased emphasis and resources for the clean energy transition. Because copper is one of these essential resources, copper demand is expected to grow to meet these economic and environmental initiatives.

New research by Fraunhofer ISI, commissioned by ICA, outlines the concept of urban mining and how it strengthens the circular economy and the copper value chain. Natural resources are often concentrated in remote or geopolitically unstable regions, whereas Urban Mining unlocks these resources close to where they are needed, increasing resource independence and reducing transport costs.

As highlighted in Euractiv, there are limitations for Urban Mining, such as landfill recovery, that will need to be lifted by regulators. Manufacturers also play a critical role in recovering anthropogenic resources. Therefore, a “design for sustainability” approach can help ensure the product’s entire life cycle is considered from the beginning, giving due consideration to the product’s environmental impact during its use and the value of its components when it comes time for disposal.

As global leaders plan the path out of the economic crisis, cities should be placed at the center of the recovery. The smart cities of the near future will need more energy-efficient and renewable resources, requiring crucial materials that are sustainable and durable — such as copper. Given that copper’s conductive properties lead to enhanced efficiency, it is no surprise that copper is the material of choice for smarter cities and smart city technology. By 2030, North America is predicted to be the leader in copper use for smart city technology, increasing its share to 35 percent. Therefore, leadership will need to partner with industry to assure the copper value chain’s sustainability and close the loop on the circular economy.

3. Leaders in the copper industry commit to responsible production

In March, the Copper Mark, founded and developed by the ICA, launched. The Copper Mark is the first and only comprehensive assurance framework developed specifically for the copper industry. The Copper Mark demonstrates the industry’s responsible production practices and contributes to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Copper producers must be assessed independently against a comprehensive set of over 30 environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria on a site-by-site basis to earn the Copper Mark. Being awarded the Copper Mark enables each site to demonstrate to customers, investors and other stakeholders their credible responsible production practices.

Despite launching at the end of March, the Copper Mark has 16 site applications, including 5 already awarded. In Utah, Rio Tinto’s site, Kennecott Utah Copper LLC, was the first producer to receive the Copper Mark, followed by Oyu Tolgoi LLC in Mongolia. The Copper Mark was next awarded to Freeport-McMoRan’s Cerro Verde site in Peru and its El Abra site in Chile–both firsts for these top copper-producing countries. The Copper Mark also went to Freeport-McMoRan’s Atlantic Copper in Spain, the first smelter-refiner site awarded.

Despite the pandemic, the Copper Mark exceeded predictions, and the organization is in a strong position to continue to develop and expand in 2021. 

Although 2020 was a year full of challenges and uncertainties, the copper industry showed its agility by reprioritizing and growing despite the economic difficulties caused by the pandemic. Looking toward 2021, the copper industry is ready to support world leaders as the global economy recovers, and countries and businesses expand their commitments to reach the Paris Climate Agreement’s goals.

22 December 2020

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