Real-time data is essential to stay relevant

Nicolas Maennling leads the economics and policy research at Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment (CCSI), a joint center of Columbia Law School and the Earth Institute at Columbia University dedicated to the study, practice and discussion of sustainable international investment.

We spoke with Nicolas on the sidelines of the EITI's gathering of key partner organisations, dedicated to discussing priorities for strengthening extractive industry governance, which was held in Oslo in September 2018.

What are the projects you are currently working on that you're particularly excited about?
Currently I am working on two projects that I am quite excited about. One project is in Chile, where we are supporting the local government with a long-term development strategy that is inclusive - we have a lot of consultations with the communities - and data driven to measure progress over time. 60% of the region’s gross domestic product will be made up of a large-scale copper-gold mining project if it goes ahead. The long term development strategy will help plan to capture the opportunities and minimize the negative impacts of this large investment. The mining company has been very supportive of this process. In the past, companies negotiated contracts at the national level, and then when it came to the local level they had social programs that were relatively ad hoc, and in a lot of cases led to companies being captured by local interests. This particular case is quite interesting for us because the company's approach has been a little bit different: before even getting the approval they decided to figure out what was happening on the ground and how they could support and integrate themselves into a development plan that would help the local community if the project went ahead, but also if it didn't go ahead. It's a different mindset. A lot of greenfield projects in Chile haven't gone ahead in more recent history because there has been social opposition. You had the approval of the central government, but you couldn't implement it locally.
The other project is looking at how mining companies can integrate more renewable energy sources into their energy mix. It's a global study highlighting the main bottlenecks and drivers for renewable power integration. We have included several case studies from Australia, Chile, Canada and South Africa where the regulatory framework is already more advanced. We hope this study will provide lessons learned and help with accelerating the roll-out of renewables in the sector.

How is the EITI process and data relevant to your work?
We do a lot of financial modelling and training on that. To do financial modelling you obviously need a lot of input. On the one hand you need data in terms of the contracts, and in order to do monitoring, you also need the data on how much actually comes in from the project. Then you can try to compare it with what you've modelled. The EITI data has been useful for that, to compare what was received with what the contract says should have been received.

What are the policy areas the EITI should prioritise in the run up to next year's Global Conference?
The issue of more up-to-date data is very important to stay relevant, so in my mind that is probably the most important area. Not only in the extractives sector, but more generally, data is increasingly becoming accessible at a real-time or near-real-time pace. Increasingly governments and companies make extractive industry data public. If the EITI reports then come out with data that is two years old, no one is going to look at them.