In economies that depend on the exploitation of natural resources and especially mining the contexts and demands of the 21st century require the actors involved to take a new look at their processes of extraction, sale and export. In the case of Chile, this is of fundamental importance as it holds 30% of the world’s copper reserves.In the 21st century, the sector, like every other sector, must change its paradigm. In the 20th century we were proud of our growth in GDP per capita but I have no doubt that the measure of development and growth in this century will be each person’s emissions as a result of that growth. Applied to the copper mining industry this means that the mineral would, in the medium term, cease to be a commodity and its final value would be measured by the carbon footprint per ton of copper produced and brought to market. The lower the greenhouse gas emissions during production, the better the price. The environment and related issues such as biodiversity would thus be determining factors for the mining industry in the 21st century.
I know that this is a new issue; it wasn’t on the table 20 or 30 years ago, but a commitment to avoiding an overall loss in biodiversity is an opportunity for us all to make real progress in the protection of our natural heritage.
This also implies the need for greater awareness of the finality of these natural resources. Countries that used to be major producers of copper now find their mines exhausted but have become major producers of industrial goods. So, if Chile accounts for more than a third of global production of copper and we have a third of the reserves, why don’t we have 30% of the research and technological progress? The mining sector is the most advanced technologically in the country. It makes use of automation, remote control, robots, satellite GPS and three-dimensional exploration but all these boons are imported: more than 1.389 billion pesos are spent on the importation of goods and over 245 million on trucks.
While this trend continues, it won’t be possible for a country like Chile to become part of the global value chain in mining. Without national innovation we won’t have any way to capitalize on the utilities that the mineral generates today.
In Chile, there is a new long term frontier in which mining royalties must be invested in science technology and an increase in productivity. So when the natural resource is exhausted, knowledge can replace it as capital and allow us to leave an inheritance for future generations consisting of the utilities gained from the natural resource we are exploiting today. This is the way to approach and build a future.