Jorge Cantallopts, Executive Director of CESCO: “Those of us who are in favor of promoting mining activity must have a more active role in discussions about the sector”

With little more than a month in office, the new executive director of CESCO arrives at a critical moment for mining in Chile: a constituent process still under development, the legislative discussion around the Royalty and the contribution that mining can make to the country, and a future that requires more minerals in front of a drop in local production, hand in hand with sustainable development that leaves value in the territories. This is Jorge Cantallopts’s view.

With an extensive experience in the mining sector, both in the public and private sectors, Jorge Cantallopts assumes the executive direction of the Center for Copper and Mining Studies (CESCO), after the appointment of Alejandra Wood as a member of the Codelco Board of Directors, with significant challenges ahead for the institution.

For this reason, Cantallopts wants to reaffirm the role that the center has developed throughout its almost four decades of existence, where it has actively participated in the discussion of public policies focused on the development of mining that benefits the country.

The executive director, who served for the last eight years as Director of Studies and Public Policies of the Chilean Copper Commission, points out that part of his stamp at the head of CESCO will be to promote meeting spaces for the industry at a global level, to strengthen and consolidate the center. “Although it sounds more like an objective than a seal, my proposal is to apply my experience in identifying and analyzing critical issues affecting mining activity development to meet the said objective. This will imply seeking more meeting spaces for discussion about the future of mining and an active role in the content of these discussions”, says Cantallopts.

-What do you consider to be the main challenges facing the mining industry today?

First, it must be stated that the challenges facing mining arise mainly from the vital role that some minerals play in the sustainable development of the world as a whole and, in particular, in the decarbonization process, which includes the energy transition as the most visible element. But that also involves the transformation of cities, our homes, transportation systems, and production systems in general. These elements are highly mineral-intensive, for which recycling is far from satisfying, even for the most optimistic estimates.

In this scenario, mining must face a series of challenges to take advantage of this enormous opportunity. Some are global in scope, such as the image problems of the mining and extractive industries, which in many cases lead to regulations that affect market access.

Today, we see there may be a divergence between the number of minerals needed to support the efforts to face progress in decarbonization, which is crucial to confront climate change, and the production levels to cover those. These topics face, among other situations, environmental restrictions, quality deposits and communities that are sometimes refractory to the development of mining activities in their territories.

Then, at the local level, in addition to the issue of image: social license to operate, some real sustainability problems that the activity, such as the issue of environmental liabilities, water scarcity, and emissions. Technological challenges such as depletion of oxide deposits and mineral processing. Political challenges include the perception that it is an extractivist industry or that it cannot contribute enough to the country’s economic and social development, among many others.

-Along with the discussion of the constituent process, a vigorous debate also arose around the role of mining in the country’s development, where the lack of knowledge at the social level about how the sector works was evident. Why do you think this has happened? How can the industry better convey its work?

Even without intending to, we must consider that mining activity plays a key role in the country’s economic and social development, exposing it to challenges that are not so evident in other mining districts.

As part of these challenges is being able to communicate their contributions to our society. Ignorance leads to prejudices and highlights negative aspects, which undoubtedly exist and cannot be hidden but have been faced and solved mainly in many cases.

I believe that along with the campaigns that the industry has carried out, those promoting the mining activity should have a more active role in the discussions that will undoubtedly continue to be developed in relation to the new constituent process. Moreover, this participation should lead the industry to be a promoter of dialogue with actors other than those with whom it usually converses, including some industries or visions often seen as antagonistic, such as tourism, agriculture, environmental activism, or heritage preservation, among others.

-In this line, the discussion around royalty has also confronted the sector with the legislative and executive powers regarding their contributions to the State. How do you assess that this discussion has taken place?

Discussion at the political level is not exempt from the prejudices that citizens have about mining in general, which is why the industry often ends up playing a very defensive role, causing an objective discussion not always to take place based on fundamentals and technical enough.

-In this scenario, what do you think is the role that CESCO should play in pursuing mining that grows and benefits the country?

CESCO, in its almost four decades of existence, has played a key role in the development of mining activity in Chile, and that should not change. However, the point is that today the challenges are different locally and globally. Therefore, to play the same role and perhaps strengthen it, we must seek to broaden our scope and, like the rest of the mining industry players, be active promoters of dialogue, especially with those sectors and decision makers who are farther from the activity.

-One of the components of the work carried out by CESCO as an organization is international relations, especially with China. What are the opportunities and challenges to continue promoting these alliances for the country from CESCO?

The mining industry is global throughout its life cycle, from investments in exploration, mining projects, mineral processing, transformation, and final consumption. Therefore, many challenges must be addressed from different and complementary perspectives. In this dimension, what CESCO has done for many years with China, the world’s top copper processing country and final consumer, must be continued, expanded, and consolidated as a permanent space for discussion and meetings to develop alliances that promote the activity.

It is also essential to develop alliances in other life cycle segments, such as what was carried out this year in Canada in the context of the PDAC, the most significant world event in mineral exploration. Indeed, we hope to continue and strengthen this activity in the future, along with exploring alliances relevant to other segments and dimensions of the mining industry.

-Currently, CESCO and its members are promoting work groups in smelters, tailings, and innovation and sustainability, among other things. How do you think you can continue promoting this work to generate a more significant impact on society?

Each of these issues responds to some of the activity’s main challenges. Therefore, in addition to promoting CESCO’s work on these issues, we must identify other vital issues on which to focus our efforts.

The empowerment must be done through the search for alliances that allow us to deepen the analysis and the communication strategy for the dissemination and precision of the message and its recipients.