Johannes and Sarah will exchange on the maturity of current policy discussions of responsible sourcing of raw-materials. They will debate the need to shift from unhelpful generalisations to specific on-the-ground actions. Whilst “mining” can refer to a multitude of different activities across the globe and perhaps hundreds of mined products that are demanded by our economies, “mining” is still routinely portrayed by reference to singular worst-cases – even as laggards in adopting concepts that leading mining companies have themselves pioneered. The recent increase in corporate shareholder resolutions is an echo of the rise of shareholder activism by indigenous peoples that shook up the biggest mining companies in the mid-1990s, which led to formation of the world’s first global industry collaboration dedicated to sustainable development – the International Council on Mining & Metals. ICMM members have been promoting responsible sourcing ever since.
Mining in Europe likewise, finds itself in an incongruous spot: on the one hand there is a certain economic reality that other regions have recently held a competitive advantage over Europe in terms of costs per tonne of production. On the other hand, this resulted from a deliberate, political choice in the 1980s, to cease competing for market share. Universities defunded their mining faculties, geological surveys stopped providing data for exploration, Member States devolved oversight of mining to levels of government could not process serious proposals. This has driven continuous sustainability improvements in the remaining fleet of mines, but closed the door to new market entrants – including those to produce lithium for batteries.
Now, 40 years later, the EU recognises an excellent opportunity to design a circular market for EV batteries almost from scratch. This will however require the opening of new mines, and the visible motive force generated by EU legislative proposals risks being squandered by letting unattainable ideals get in the way of timely action.
Johannes & Sarah will explore to what extent “just transitions” need to be democratic, honest, realistic and fair. First coined by climate activists as a slightly patronising way of referring to the need to consider the employment impacts of wholescale shutting down of the coal-fired energy system; the term “just transition” thankfully starts to be deepened to more seriously address the very real political challenges associated with rapid and costly disruption of established industries and infrastructure – and what it means for enabling concrete actions at site level.
Fig 1. Just Transition: it’s complicated
Johannes Drielsma is an accomplished leader of interdisciplinary teams to deliver on strategic sustainability goals, with field experience in several sectors and cultural settings. He began his career in the mining industry in Australia, then served for many years as a lead lobbyist for sustainability in the mining industry at international government and industry organisations. Most recently he has been supporting the EV batteries supply chain.