Canada, other G7 nations launch sustainable mining alliance at COP15 nature meeting
MONTREAL — Canada and other G7 countries have formed a new alliance to force mining companies to adopt more environmentally and socially responsible standards as the western world ramps up its critical mineral supply chains.
Natural Resources Secretary Jonathan Wilkinson announced the agreement at the COP15 biodiversity talks in Montreal on Monday. The agreement involves countries trying to reduce China’s dominance in the critical minerals field.
Critical minerals refer to about three dozen metals and minerals required for most modern technology, including laptops and cell phones. But they are also essential for rechargeable batteries used in electric vehicles, as well as for energy storage and renewable energy generation in solar panels and wind turbines.
“Without critical minerals, there is no energy transition,” Wilkinson told reporters. “Critical minerals are the building blocks for the green and digital economy.”
The announcement came three days after Wilkinson released Canada’s Critical Minerals Strategy, which aims to expand Canada’s production in ways that are environmentally sound, ensure indigenous justice and enhance global security.
Canada and the United States are among Western democracies that have made it clear that China cannot be allowed to dominate critical minerals in a way that gives it political clout similar to Russia’s hold on oil and gas exports to Europe. China is the dominant player in critical minerals, particularly in refining, processing and manufacturing.
Asked if the alliance was aimed at China, Wilkinson said, “It is a call for all countries to actually do so in a way that is environmentally sustainable, respects labor rights and respects the rights of indigenous peoples.”
All G7 countries except Italy have joined the alliance, as has Australia.
“We understand that by 2050, net zero will require more mining, not less,” said Katherine Ruiz-Avila, Australia’s Deputy High Commissioner to Canada, adding that her country has joined the alliance to ensure “critical… Minerals mined, processed and processed are recycled in a way that positively contributes to the life of local communities, indigenous people and the quality of our natural environment.”
Canada’s strategy focuses only on domestic mining, and Wilkinson acknowledged that it says nothing about the sustainability of raw materials mined elsewhere and brought to Canada for further processing or used to make batteries.
The alliance is an attempt to expand Canada’s strategy globally, although it’s not clear how adamant Canada or others will be in ensuring imported critical minerals follow the same environmental and social standards as those mined domestically.
Nor does the agreement specify what role alliance members will play in ensuring their own companies follow the standards when operating on foreign soil. Canada’s mining companies have a strong reputation for sustainable mining practices at home, but things are different internationally. Several lawsuits alleging environmental damage, harm to human health and human rights abuses have been filed against Canadian companies operating in other countries.
When asked how the alliance would change the practices of Canadian mining companies, Wilkinson defended the industry.
“Canada’s mining companies, both domestic and international, have some of the highest standards in the world. That’s not to say we don’t have to do more; We need to do more to ensure we halt biodiversity loss here and around the world,” he said.
Allies are also unsure whether they will restrict exports of minerals mined in their territories to China. Canada has already begun enforcing a new policy to limit the role of state-owned companies in non-democratic countries in Canada’s critical minerals, forcing three Chinese companies to sell their ownership interests in some small Canadian mining developments.
However, Wilkinson said the alliance will have an impact on where Canada sources its critical minerals.
“We all essentially commit to certain standards that relate to how we produce the minerals, but also where we buy minerals,” he said. “If you are a country with critical natural resources and want to sell them to the UK, Japan or Canada, you have to respect those principles.”
The COP15 nature talks are an attempt by most countries around the world to agree on policies that will both halt and repair the destruction that human activities, including mining, have wrought on global ecosystems and wildlife. Some environmentalists are not happy that the Canadian government is announcing a strategy to expand mining.
Caroline Brouillette, national policy director at Climate Action Network Canada, said the strategy is detached from the talks at COP15 and reinforces “our reliance on destructive business models that deplete resources and harm communities”.
Aimee Boulanger, executive director of the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance, said governments have an essential role to play in ensuring minerals used in the transition away from fossil fuels are mined responsibly.
“We have to make sure that the solutions to the problems we’re trying to solve don’t do more harm themselves,” she said in an interview.
But Boulanger said that even in the countries that are members of the alliance, local laws are currently not strong enough to prevent significant damage from industrial mining.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on December 12, 2022.
– Mia Rabson in Ottawa and Jacob Serebrin in Montreal.
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