What emerged from COP26 was a fragile, global consensus to move away – in part – from fossil fuels. But alarmingly, the international conference on climate change led to few agreements on exactly how or how fast.
What is for certain is that the transition to renewable energy will require metals and minerals. Some estimates say that over the next 30 years, more than 3 billion tons of metals and minerals will need to be mined to power the energy transition. Faced with such unprecedented financial opportunities, the mining industry has swiftly positioned itself as a key player in the fight against climate change, meanwhile countries around the world compete to be the source for critical minerals required in transition technologies.
Resource extraction is undoubtedly at the heart of the climate crisis – and so we're at a crossroads. Will we have a mining-intensive energy transition that sees the rich getting richer while threatening ecosystems and the self-determination of Indigenous peoples and mining-affected communities? Or will we have a just energy transition that prioritizes the health of communities, workers, and the environment, while offering real solutions to the climate crisis?
MiningWatch Canada and the many communities we work with around the world believe that not only is another way forward possible, a just energy transition is the only way to address the climate crisis. This work needs your support! This Human Rights Day, read more about our work and consider donating to MiningWatch to keep our work sustainable.
Documenting the impacts of mining for critical minerals: Environmental Justice Map
The transition to a low-carbon future is moving at an extraordinary pace and with it, the demand for energy transition metals is soaring. This new mining boom is rapidly expanding into fragile and biodiverse ecosystems like the Amazon and other rainforests, glaciers, salt flats, mountain ranges, and wetlands — areas of vital importance in providing fresh water, sustaining life, and regulating the climate – while deepening environmental and social crises.
In collaboration with 25 mobilized communities affected by the growing pressure for strategic metals and the Environmental Justice Atlas, we developed an interactive map and report documenting the widespread social and environmental impacts of mining for lithium, copper, nickel, and graphite in the Americas. The map and report are just the beginning of a collective process to be used as an organizing tool for communities, while also serving to address regional trends and discuss the problems and limitations of a mining-dependent energy transition.
Exposing the risks of lithium speculation in Mexico
Following the discovery of lithium deposits in the north of the country, Mexico could emerge as one of the world’s largest players in lithium extraction and production. Even though exploration is primarily speculative – only one project out of 36 has reached the pre-feasibility stage – investors from five countries, including Canada, have already expressed interest. However, this “lithium rush” has led to concessions of large tracts of land, which in turn has already led to land dispossession in some communities. In collaboration with GeoCommunes and the Mexican Network of Peoples Affected by Mining (REMA), we produced a joint report mapping out lithium concessions in Mexico and some of the potential socio-environmental impacts, as well as the geopolitical interests behind the lithium projects in the country.
Countering deep sea mining as an answer to climate change
Canadian mining companies are at the forefront pushing to establish the deep seabed as the new frontier in mining. In an effort to support concerned citizens of Pacific Island nations, MiningWatch and Oceans North prepared an open letter, endorsed by 17 major Canadian conservation and Indigenous organizations, calling on Canada to use its membership and influence at the UN’s International Seabed Authority (ISA) to support a moratorium on deep seabed mining until a clear set of environmental and social conditions is met.
Vancouver-based The Metals Company, formerly DeepGreen, is the most vocal promoter of seabed mining in international waters of the Pacific, where the company is targeting million-year-old polymetallic nodules. We supported a shareholder advisory that identifies many environmental, social and governance risks of material concern such as impacts on high value fisheries such as tuna, Pacific national economies, and Pacific Islander livelihoods and cultures.
Highlighting the environmental hazards of copper mining in Chile
Around 60 percent of copper demand comes from ‘green technologies’ – wind and solar technology, electric vehicles and the infrastructure to support them. But the extraction of copper requires large amounts of water and energy and leaves behind toxic waste. Canadian mining company Los Andes Copper has been developing the Vizcachitas copper-molybdenum-silver mining project in Putaendo (in the Valparaíso region) since 2007. The Vizcachitas project is widely rejected by communities and the company has undertaken exploration activities without consent or the appropriate environmental permits.
This year, MiningWatch supported the communities in filing a judicial appeal based on various omissions and inaccuracies in the environmental assessment of the project. We also highlighted the socio-environmental impacts of the project through a video about potential impacts on the Rocín River and on the 100-plus "rock glaciers" that constitute the most important hydrological reserve in the area. Given that climate change is projected to worsen drought in the area, the future well-being of these rock glaciers is critical.
Mobilizing to protect tourist and recreational areas from graphite mining
Graphite is the single largest ingredient in most lithium-ion batteries manufactured for electric vehicles and renewable energy storage. Lomiko Metals has identified spherical graphite production as a key goal in plans to supply graphite anodes for lithium-ion battery factories in North America. Over the last few years, Le Regroupement de protection des lacs de la Petite-Nation (RPLPN), a group that represents over 1,000 landowners in the Laurentians, has mobilized 25 municipalities in the county to pass a resolution calling against mining development in tourist and recreational areas.
In recent months, local concerns have grown as Lomiko Metals has published a preliminary economic assessment for its La Loutre project, an open-pit mine in the heart of Simon, Gagnon and Plage lakes. Throughout the year, we supported RPLPN in raising public awareness through a series of regional maps documenting the extent of Lomiko’s project and other graphite claims that threaten various subwatersheds within the Ottawa River watershed. We also provided documentation and coordinated the shooting of a national TV story about the graphite mining exploration boom in touristic and cottaging areas of the Ottawa River watershed.
Reforming mining laws in British Columbia to ensure a just transition
The mining industry is working hard to paint British Columbia as a 'green' jurisdiction for mining, claiming it can meet global environmental, social, and governance standards while supplying low-carbon metals and minerals required for the energy transition. But unless the B.C. government enforces laws and standards to respect the decisions of communities and uphold Indigenous rights to consent, social and environmental conflicts will persist.
In a new backgrounder report, MiningWatch and the BC Mining Law Reform network conclude that the government of British Columbia is failing to meet the Indigenous consent standard for mining, even two years after the passing of the province’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (DRIPA). While B.C.’s mining legislation as a whole continues to allow mining companies to operate with little regard for Indigenous rights, the Mineral Tenure Act in particular—which has its origins in the colonial gold rush days of the 1850s— has not been updated to reflect Indigenous rights. This is especially concerning given that in 2020 alone, approximately 5,000 new mineral claims (1.9 million hectares) and approximately 1,400 new placer claims (63,000 hectares) were acquired without First Nations’ knowledge.
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