Why the world needs the Future Minerals Forum
Saudi Arabia is currently undergoing a radical cultural, social and economic transformation, as first spelled out in 2016 when Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched Vision 2030.
What may shock many followers of global finance, investment, and economic development, however, is just how far advanced the Kingdom is in certain areas of its transformation. Take the minerals and metals sector, for example, which has quietly gone about turning itself upside-down. Despite a long history of mining, this industry has been revitalized in just 4 years by taking several measures such as making new geological data available to the world and revamping its legal and regulatory framework, by initiating work on a complete mineral and metal sector — upstream, midstream and downstream and by embedding an environmental, social and governance approach in the sector.
Saudi Arabia plans to bring all of its hard-won advantages to bear on its mining sector, with the aim of developing the third pillar of industrial growth. These advantages include an estimated $1.3 trillion worth of critical minerals under its soil, geostrategic location, a young and motivated workforce, low-cost inputs, excellent infrastructure, and stable government and fiscal policies.
Saudi Arabia’s growing value chains in gold, phosphate (fertilizer), and bauxite (aluminum) have expanded considerably in the last few years, with even bigger plans in place. The “new” minerals and metals sector has attracted its most-ever foreign investment – $8 billion – and is looking to grow its contribution to the gross domestic product by 4x while doubling the number of jobs.
But the leaders of Saudi Arabia have recognized that with great potential and opportunity comes great responsibility. That is why the Kingdom’s Ministry of Industry and Mineral Resources convened the first-ever Future Minerals Forum in January 2022. Designed to shine a spotlight on the massive region that stretches from Africa to Central Asia, FMF 2022 was a huge success. More than 7,500 delegates attended, from more than 50 countries to hear from more than 150 mining thought leaders.
FMF2023 presents a unique opportunity to bring together the key players from across the spectrum of global mining to coordinate efforts within a heartland that spans two continents, a third of the world’s landmass, and is home to some 79 countries.
The forum is based on the idea that minerals – and the sector as a whole – will play a pivotal role in efforts to create a low-carbon, resource-efficient, and responsible future for the planet. Whether it is critical minerals, battery metals, or rare earth elements, the shift to net zero will require more minerals in more regions because significant gaps exist between supply and demand. The world will see shortfalls in the next 10 years of 6.5x in copper, 9x in lithium, and 10x in cobalt, to name just a few.
The realization that clean energy minerals and metals are in short supply has set off a frenzy of exploration, investment, and production planning across the globe. Companies and governments in well-established minerals jurisdictions like the US, the UK, Canada, and Australia have become intensely focused on securing stable supply chains and enhancing relationships with like-minded partners and stakeholders.
In addition to its own mining transformation, Saudi Arabia has looked at the global stage and seen the challenges and opportunities available in the emerging super-region covered by FMF. The issues facing the region as a whole already are being, or have been, tackled by Saudi Arabia — few regional champions, infrastructure, financing, and lack of talent going into mining — and FMF is a place where the jurisdictions can come together to create a stronger region and make the most of the opportunities available. But how?
When considering opportunities, investors, and operators look for: Geology, potential profitability, security of tenure, consistency of policies, and infrastructure. Government can – and must — play a “catalyst” role in four of the five, with only geology being beyond any ministry’s control. That’s why Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Industry and Mineral Resources is taking the lead at FMF.
FMF2023 presents a unique opportunity to bring together the key players from across the spectrum of global mining to coordinate efforts within a heartland that spans two continents, a third of the world’s landmass, and is home to some 79 countries. With vast undeveloped resources across this future heartland of minerals and with the potential for a new mining supercycle looming, initiatives like the forum show that Saudi Arabia is serious about taking a leadership role in minerals, both regionally and globally, and is aware that the clock is ticking as concerns about climate change mount.
• Daniel Sekulich is a Canadian journalist, director and documentary filmmaker.