The top 10 risks for the global mining industry in 2020

5 min read
March 22, 2020

Risk management is a crucial cornerstone of any successful mining operation and these are the leading concerns for those in the resources sector in 2020.
Understanding these risks is important so that executives can mitigate and prepare with in-house management, investment in new technologies and spending on environmental, social and governance measures.

KPMG International is one of the big four global accounting organisations and recently released its Risks and Opportunities for Mining Global Outlook 2020.

The outlook revealed that those in the mining industry are ready to adopt new technologies, with 75 per cent of respondents viewing technological disruption as an opportunity, rather than a threat.

KPMG Global Head of Mining Trevor Hart said that those in the resources sector had every cause to be “very optimistic about the future”.

“Significant opportunities are available for investors as the industry continues to facilitate dramatic advancements in the world’s standard of living,” he continued.

But the risks associated with mining have changed since the last outlook in 2019 and it is important for all companies to be aware of them so they can play for the year ahead.

Here are the Top 10 risks for the global mining industry, including their position in relation to the same time in 2019.


10. Tailings management (new entry)

A review of the safe management of tailings storage facilities has been launched in the wake of the tragedy that occurred in the Brumadinho dam disaster in Brazil in January 2019.

This review is being conducted by The International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI).

It was released for public consultation in November 2019 and the feedback is currently being analysed before new governance is formulated.

These new standards will need to be adopted industry-wide which is why tailings management has entered the Top 10 risks for 2020.


9. Ability to access and replace reserves (down three places from sixth)

This is an omnipresent risk for all mining operations.

Resources are discovered in the exploration phase and the reserve is the economically mineable component of this reserve.

Various factors mean that access and finding viable replacements is always a challenge, but this has dropped down the list for 2020.


8. Global trade war (new entry)

Ongoing volatility between powerhouse nations United States and China has the global economy sitting in the balance.

It began in 2018 when President Donald Trump put tariffs and trade barriers on China and tensions have been slowly escalating ever since.

A partial trade agreement was recently agreed on, but this has done little to settle uncertainty.

On top of this, The European Union is also locked in a trade dispute with the US which is further complicated by the United Kingdom’s “Brexit” from the EU.


7. Environmental risks, including new regulations (up three places from 10) AND regulatory and compliance changes (up one place from 8)

A tie for seventh place, with two issues that have links with each other.

In the United States, the first major changes for three decades are set to be made to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

There are varying levels of reform to environmental legislation in Australia as well, with discussion papers and proposals across several states and territories.

The ongoing climate change discussion and global emissions targets are paving the way for environmental reform and new regulations across the world as well.

These changes, coupled with other compliance changes, will be more of a risk for mining operations in 2020 than in previous years.

“A great deal of work remains to be done in developing effective strategies for carbon emission reductions, and progress in this direction looks non-negotiable,” Mr Hart said.


6. Economic downturn/uncertainty (down one place from 5)

The UN has warned that a global recession is a serious risk for 2020.

the UN’s trade and development body Unctad has released a report warning that growth will hit its lowest ebb since 2009 – falling from 3 per cent in 2018 to 2.3 per cent.

This economic uncertainty remains a clear and present danger to all industries in 2020.


5. Political instability (up two places from 7)

The looming US elections in 2020 will have a major influence on many industries, including mining.

The increasing separation between the US and China is likely to have further impacts on technology while the EU is threatening to become more assertive against major economies like the US.

And with 40 per cent of countries expected to experience some form of civil unrest in 2020, there is plenty of uncertainty that could impact the mining industry.


4. Community relations and social licence to operate (down one place from 3)

Gaining the trust of communities and developing ongoing relationships to support these communities remains an ongoing challenge for all companies in the mining industry.


3. Access to capital, including liquidity (up one place from 4)

Mr Hart explains that while commodity prices still influence capital flows to the mining industry, investors are thinking more and more about how companies use capital for environmental, social and governance (ESG) measures.

“This growing focus on ESG issues is shared by investors and companies alike,” he said.

“Seventy-five per cent of respondents to our survey say the industry needs to redefine success using a more holistic group of measures that include both shareholder and stakeholder values.”


2. Permitting risk (stable at 2)

The fact that permitting risk remains high on the list highlights how essential risk management policies and procedures are.

Australia is currently experiencing mining safety legislation reform in states including Queensland and Western Australia which will mean that industrial manslaughter charges can be laid for non-compliance resulting in fatalities.

“Attracting investors is expected to require companies to consistently and continually demonstrate that mining is safe and focused on the world’s wellbeing,” Mr Hart said.


1. Commodity price risk (stable at 1)

It is no surprise that commodity prices remain at the top of the list, largely because of all of the other risks combining to create market vulnerability across the world.

Commodity price risk management is essential to ride the waves of prices that can (and likely will) sharply spike and fall during 2020.

Cashflow needs to be managed, new projects need to be assessed for viability and growth could be scaled back in some cases to prevent unnecessary risks being taken.


How technology can help with risk management

As previously mentioned, three-quarters of those in the mining industry surveyed for this report agreed that technology disruptions should be viewed as opportunities.

Another 36 per cent agreed that innovation and technological transformation were top strategies for growth in 2020.

Journey Management System (JMS) is a fully-automated trip management and safety app that is perfectly suited for the mining and resources sectors.

Driving is one of the riskiest duties a worker will have to undertake as part of their job role, which is amplified in the mining industries because of travel between job sites in rural and remote locations.

JMS sets a series of checkpoints along the journey which are ticked off automatically using the GPS and mobile/cell signal of the mobile devices.

If a driver does not reach these checkpoints or fatigue management points in a designated time period without checking in, the app will automatically send alerts to management via SMS, mobile audio and email.

This means that emergency assistance can be mobilised quickly which is vital for vehicle malfunctions or accidents in remote areas with low mobile/cell reception.

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