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Top Risks Facing the Mining Sector

by Tia

The demand for natural resources is growing as the world’s population continues to grow. This means that operators in the mining sector are doing a tough balancing act with the ever-increasing demand for raw materials against the limitations of Earth’s finite resources while navigating challenges such as geopolitical risk, commodity price fluctuations and societal pressure for greener solutions, all of which are the makings for a very complex operating environment.

Presenting on the back of the Invest Africa Mining Series, Paul Pryor, Aon Global Mining Practice Leader, pointed out that while the face of mining is changing, there is no denying the prominent role that the mining sector plays in many countries such as South Africa, which is ranked as the sixth largest mining producer in the world[1]. With a total revenue of R654 billion in 2023[2], the South African mining sector contributes around 8% of South Africa’s GDP and employs around half a million people in the country.[3]

“The natural resources industry is facing a complex, volatile and constantly shifting range of challenges. In Aon’s latest Global Risk Management Survey, it was found that the most pivotal risks concerning the industry today are: business interruption, regulatory or legislative changes and commodity price risk or scarcity of materials, ranked as the top three. These highly interconnected challenges are the same top three noted in our 2021 survey, highlighting the persistence and seriousness of these risks for the industry,” explains Paul Pryor, Aon Global Mining Practice Leader.

Natural Resources Industry Top Ten Risks:

  1. Business Interruption
  2. Regulatory/Legislative Changes
  3. Commodity Price Risk/Scarcity of Materials
  4. Property Damage
  5. Cyber Attacks/Data Breach
  6. Environmental Risk
  7. Political Risk
  8. Weather/Natural Disasters
  9. Climate Change
  10. Environmental Social Governance (ESG)/Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

Survey results found that 51.3 % of organisations that participated in the survey suffered losses due to business interruption, while regulatory or legislative changes caused losses for 42.5% of respondents. Commodity Price Risk or scarcity of materials caused losses for a staggering 57.1 % of respondents with property damage hot on its heels at 56.7% of respondents.

“Business interruption is at the top of the list and remains an ever-present concern, made worse by inflation across the globe, which has pushed up asset values. It is also driven by interconnected factors such as weather and natural disasters, supply chain failure and climate change. From a South African perspective, the ongoing Transnet crisis is causing major cargo disruptions at ports and customs that are coupled with an erratic power supply and the prospect of an election year, all of which are adding to the business interruption woes of the mining sector,” says Paul.

Risk Spotlight:

“Supply chain or distribution failure plays a pivotal role in the business interruption space, and while it does not feature in the natural resources industry-specific top ten, it is ranked number four on South Africa’s top risks.  It extends well beyond keeping production moving or suppliers’ manufacturing facilities intact. In the short term, supply chain or distribution failure could cause the company not to meet its quarterly target, which could lead to liquidity and solvency issues in the long term. The risk also ties into the financial solvency of critical suppliers, the ESG performance of a supply chain and the increased intellectual property and cyber exposure triggered by shared supplier systems and processes. The mining sector has a complex and interwoven supply chain, which means there are many possible points of failure,” Paul explains.

The prevalence of environmental and climate-related risks in the industry-specific top ten comes as no surprise, considering the increased focus on natural resources industries to demonstrate good corporate citizenship and dedication to supporting the push for decarbonisation. And while this may be a global directive, it requires massive investment in new technologies and new resources, both from a public and private sector perspective. The road to decarbonisation, specifically in the mining sector, will be an expensive and time-consuming undertaking for a carbon-intensive business, where the needs and the livelihood of its workforce need to be taken into consideration,” says Paul.

Most Underrated Risks:

“Weather/natural disastersandclimate changesignificantly threaten mining organisations. While survey respondents put them in the top 10 risks, at number 8 and number 9, respectively, the risks may warrant being higher on the list. Storms, cyclones, wildfires and other events can disrupt operations, as mining assets are often in areas highly exposed to natural catastrophes. Such events commonly damage infrastructure and lead to resource shortages, necessitating strategic preparedness to mitigate and recover. Other risks that we would expect to be higher in the ranking as the sector continues to leverage technology to shift toward cleaner, more efficient, and sustainable operations include workforce shortage, failure to attract or retain top talent and cyber-attacks/data breach,” adds Paul.

Future Risks:

In the mining sector, vigilance towards future risks is crucial for informed decision-making and strategic planning. Anticipating geopolitical shifts, regulatory changes and technological advancements allows companies to navigate challenges, minimise disruptions and capitalise on emerging opportunities. This proactive approach ensures adaptability, sustainability and responsible development, safeguarding the industry’s interest in the long term.

The top five future natural resources industry risks identified in Aon’s Global Risk Management Survey, include :

  1. Regulatory/Legislative Changes
  2. Business Interruption
  3. Climate Change
  4. Political Risk
  5. Commodity Price Risk/Scarcity of Materials

In the ever-evolving landscape of the mining industry, proactive risk management is crucial. Leaders must continually adapt strategies to address emerging risks, with both resilience and significant value at stake.

[1] https://finance.yahoo.com/news/top-20-mining-countries-world-154811468.html
[2] https://www.statista.com/statistics/1342869/south-africa-mining-revenue/
[3] https://www.bcg.com/publications/2023/an-untapped-goldmine-opportunities-for-south-african-mining

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