Conference Report Published
The report of last year's conference, “Turning Down the Heat: Can We Mine Our Way Out of the Climate Crisis?” was published today to coincide with an online roundtable
convened today by MiningWatch Canada to discuss the environmental, social, and climate impacts of mining metals to meet the demands of the booming renewable energy economy.
In November 2019, MiningWatch Canada brought together almost 200 people from 6 continents – community and grassroots representatives, experts and academics, researchers and activists – to explore important issues around the need for metals and materials for renewable energy and climate action. Participants heard from communities at the front lines of raw material extraction for green energy. We took in some of the most important new research and thinking on these issues, and looked at ideas and applications to address both the demand for materials and practical conditions for their extraction and use.
The conference highlighted the emerging conflict between growing renewable energy generation and storage capacity – urgently needed to reduce anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions – and the destructive social and environmental effects that mining the metals and minerals required to create that capacity can have. It explored ways to mitigate and avoid that conflict through reduced demand for both energy and materials, as well as through improved practices and stricter regulation of mining.
Presenters and participants emphasised the urgency of moving away from fossil energy as quickly and as completely as possible, and the potential of renewable energy to replace it. They explored the implications of that transition and the metals and minerals it requires, and the potential for reducing that demand through improved efficiency (both energy and material use), recycling, and circular economies, as well as through alternative technologies and alternative approaches in key areas such as construction and transport. They also addressed the potential to limit economies’ energy and material demands through more sustainable development strategies, including de-growth in wealthy countries.
By putting the experience of frontline communities – those facing the social and environmental impacts of mining – at the centre of the discussion, the conference put the need for rapid decarbonisation in the context of the ecological and social limits of extraction, whether of fossil fuels or of metals and minerals, and the need for policy and investment direction to consider all of these aspects together, not in isolation.
The conference was organised around four themes:
- What are the impacts on the ground from the increased demand for minerals?
- What are the trends and predictions of minerals demand for renewable energy?
- How can the demand for mining be reduced or eliminated?
- What conditions need to be placed on the sourcing of minerals for renewable energy?
Mining has an ecological and socio-economic footprint far larger than the mine sites themselves, affecting whole regions and watersheds, and posing a long-term threat through toxic contamination and massive mine waste dumps. As the industry expands and moves into new and more remote regions, affected communities and Indigenous peoples are increasingly declaring that they are unwilling to have their territories turned into sacrifice zones. In the context of biodiversity loss and ‘overshoot’ of natural systems’ carrying capacity, energy overconsumption is but one factor – albeit a hugely important one – that needs to be addressed in order to not just avoid ecological (and economic) collapse, but to achieve sustainable and equitable prosperity for all.
We would like to thank all the conference participants, speakers – and the funders: the Echo Foundation, the 11th Hour Project, Oxfam-Canada, the Centre for Research on Latin America and the Caribbean (CERLAC) at York University, and the Interdisciplinary Research Group on the Territories of Extraction at Ottawa University (GRITE).