BOGOTA – Global consumption of raw materials is expected to more than double from 40 billion tons in 2010 to about 90 billion tons by 2050, thanks to urbanization and growing demand for renewable energy, Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) sector specialist Carlos Gustavo Sucre said in an interview with EFE.
“More minerals will be needed (in 2050) than have been produced in the past 100 years” due to climate change and the introduction of new technologies, such as solar panels, wind turbines, electric vehicles and batteries, Sucre said.
The increase in demand will create a “growing market” for minerals that are abundant in Latin America, such as alumina, bauxite, cobalt, copper, iron ore, lead, lithium, nickel, manganese, platinum, rare earth elements, silver, titanium and zinc, the IDB specialist said.
“The region has significant resources of different minerals that will be extremely important in the coming decades, opening the way, among other things, for the development of non-conventional renewable energy and the batteries for electric automobiles,” Sucre said.
Chile and Argentina, for example, have 71 percent of the world’s lithium reserves, while Brazil has 14 percent of global iron ore reserves and Peru and Chile produce more than 40 percent of the copper used in the world.
“All of these minerals will play an essential role in the global economy of the future and the countries are working in favor of their development, with the bank’s support in certain areas,” the IDB specialist said.
Sucre said, however, that the mining industry still faced challenges that it would have to overcome, such as illegal mining and the tense relations between mining complexes and nearby vulnerable communities.
The extent of illegal mining “varies from mineral to mineral,” Sucre said, noting that in the case of copper, for example, “it’s not common to find illegal mining and/or informal (mining), which is much more common with gold.”
In Colombia, approximately four out of every five ounces of gold produced in the country comes from illegal or informal mines.
“The impact on the industry can be felt from the extent to which local communities develop mining activity,” the IDB specialist said.
This type of mining creates problems when environmental regulations are ignored and mercury is used to separate the gold from the rocks, polluting communities’ water sources.
Such practices “create negative prospects for mining, generally, when the fact is that formal mining makes a great effort to monitor and mitigate the associated environmental impacts,” Sucre said.
Regarding the second problem, conflicts, Sucre said that “there are three main actors in the mining industry: society, government and industry.”
“The relationship among the three frequently becomes conflictive because the interests of each one are not always aligned. However, there are experiences in Latin America that demonstrate that it is possible to find alignment in the goals of each party and thus minimize the conflicts,” the IDB specialist said.
Sucre said “the mining companies have started to develop an awareness of the need to include the communities where they carry out their projects in an early and sustained way.”
Chile is considered a “good example of this,” Sucre said, adding that initiatives, such as Alianza Valor Minero, have been created that “with continuous dialogue exercises among the three parties, manages to reach agreements and (yields) actions that benefit both society – integrating it, for example, in the project’s value chain – and companies and the governments.”
The IDB has cited, as examples, projects in Peru and Colombia, where work is being done with aid groups from Canada in the northwestern town of Buritica.
Colombia’s “largest gold mine” is being developed in Buritica and the IDB is promoting the creation of small local businesses to strengthen the region’s economic sustainability, Sucre said.
The IDB is also financing a program to strengthen civil society and train municipal government officials, with a focus on gender issues.