Advocates at biodiversity conference push back against plan to expedite approvals for critical minerals mines

The Hill Times

The federal government’s new critical minerals strategy reflects the urgency borne of geopolitical concerns and the demands of electric vehicle production.

By Kevin Philipupillai, The Hill Times 

Natural Resources Canada’s promise of an expedited approvals process for domestic critical minerals projects has raised concerns among environmental and human rights advocates who say the government is focusing too heavily on extractive industries as a way out of the climate crisis.

Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson (North Vancouver, B.C.) released Canada’s long-awaited critical minerals strategy on Dec. 9. He followed up on Dec. 12 with an announcement at the COP15 United Nations biodiversity conference in Montreal that several G7 nations had formed an alliance to ensure responsible supply chains for critical minerals.

Caroline Brouillette, national policy director for Climate Action Network Canada, told The Hill Times the timing of the strategy’s release was strange, especially given its emphasis on expediting the approvals process for mining projects in Canada.

“It feels disconnected from the conversations we’re hearing here about addressing the root causes of the biodiversity crisis and our dependence on extractive business models,” she said.

Brouillette also warned that “diluting and accelerating the environmental process” and limiting the rights and sovereignty of Indigenous peoples would be the incorrect answer to the wrong problem. She said the major reason for delays in project approvals has come not from the regulatory process, but rather from the investment side, where companies don’t always have the capital they need to get projects up and running.
Jamie Kneen, Canada program co-lead for the advocacy group MiningWatch Canada, said the momentum behind critical minerals—stemming both from geopolitical and clean energy priorities—is “a marketing opportunity for the mining industry.”

The new critical minerals strategy does not mention China, but Kneen said “you can read between the lines” to see the influence of the concept of “friend-shoring,” popularized recently by Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland (University-Rosedale, Ont.) and by U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

Kneen said the government has so far pursued an overly narrow approach to the climate crisis, focused too heavily on ramping up mining production to allow for the widespread adoption of electric vehicles. He argued instead for a broader rethink of transportation policy, land-use planning, and other sectors of society.

“One of the critiques that we’ve had is that this is not a whole-of-government strategy. This is a minerals production strategy,” he said.


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