Increasing geopolitical uncertainty has magnified the precariousness of existing sources of critical minerals, vital in aerospace, defence, telecommunications, healthcare, computing, and an array of clean technologies such as solar panels and electric car batteries.
Recently, governments across the globe have started assessing the vulnerability of their respective economies to supply shocks for critical minerals: minerals and metals that they cannot source in sufficient volume (or at all) from within their borders, but on which the proper functioning of their economies are dependent. Elevated security of supply concerns have caused Canada’s allies, including the U.S., Europe, and Japan, to re-evaluate and take action to reduce their exposure to the risk of supply shocks that can have major impacts on their broader economies. They are looking to Canada to be a reliable, responsible, and trusted critical minerals source in an increasingly uncertain world.
While this process was underway prior to the onset of COVID-19, awareness of it was primarily concentrated in industries subject to international market dynamics, and governments as stewards of the economies on which these critical minerals rely. The global pandemic has brought the security of supply vulnerabilities into sharp focus for the broader populations of many countries, including Canada, who have experienced shortages of key products, such as personal protective equipment, medical ventilators, and items essential to our everyday lives.
Combined, these trends have accelerated the desire of Canadians to source and produce locally, with greater self-reliance and security, more of the goods on which they rely. Recent polling data finds that almost 90% of those surveyed by Abacus Data like the idea of Canada being a preferred source for critical minerals and would like to see government take a number of steps to support this approach.
While critical minerals, such as cobalt, copper, nickel, uranium, and aluminium, typify this, no set of materials characterizes the above security of supply dilemma more than Rare Earth Elements (REE), used in a wide range of essential battery, medical, energy, computing, defence, and advanced manufacturing applications. To date, China has coerced the market for these key materials, developing monopoly-like control over their production and distribution, thus rendering the rest of the world reliant on China for procurement. Simultaneously, Canada’s mining fiscal and regulatory competitiveness has been declining steadily over the last decade, as consecutive reviews of environmental legislation and new regulations have created uncertainty and a growing compliance burden.
Looking forward, the opportunity lies in harnessing our strengths to support future economic growth in the critical minerals space.
As COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc across the globe, it is clear that our industry has a significant role to play in ensuring the materials people and businesses need now more than ever are both available and responsibly sourced. Throughout the last year, Canada’s mining companies have rightly focused on the health and safety of their employees, their contractors, and the communities in and around which they operate. From building mobile testing units at remote mine locations, to chartering planes for fly-in fly-out operations to ensure social distancing, to allowing Indigenous employees to remain in their home communities with full pay, the mining sector has prioritized health and safety and will undoubtedly continue to do so.
Looking forward, the opportunity lies in harnessing our strengths to support future economic growth in the critical minerals space. The good news is Canada is well positioned to do just that. First, Canada’s mining industry is already recognized as a global best practice leader in responsible mineral production, evidenced by the success and expansion of the Mining Association of Canada’s Towards Sustainable Mining initiative internationally. This made-in-Canada mining success story is positioning the industry as a preferred destination for the responsible sourcing of minerals and metals. Second, markets and consumers are increasingly demanding cleaner and greener materials at every stage of the supply-chain for the products they consume. People care about the environment and want to know that the consumer choices they’re making reflect this, especially when it comes to impacts on climate change. Third, Canada has one of the cleanest electricity grids on the planet, with 82% of generation coming from non-GHG emitting sources, meaning we produce some of the lowest carbon intensity mineral and metal products anywhere in the world.
Taken together, Canada has the potential to achieve critical mineral self-sufficiency and meet our allies’ growing demand for critical minerals in an increasingly precarious world, all while doing so in an environmentally responsible way. To ensure Canada seizes this opportunity governments are taking action to match our industry’s strengths to position the country for success.
In the updated 2030 Climate Plan, the flagship Strategic Innovation Fund Net Zero Accelerator identified the establishment of an up and down-stream battery electrical vehicle ecosystem as a key priority. In tandem, Canada and the U.S. have finalized and are implementing a Joint Action Plan on Critical Minerals Collaboration with the intent to strengthen pre-existing supply chains where possible and establish new ones to bolster greater North American security of supply for critical minerals. The governments of Quebec, Saskatchewan, and Ontario are moving forward in the electric vehicle space, supporting critical mineral projects, developing rare earth processing capacity, amongst other complementary actions, reflective of the spirit of the Canada Minerals and Metals Plan. Achieving success for Canada in the critical minerals space has multi-level bipartisan support across the Canadian federation.
It’s time for Canada’s mining sector to be ambitious and seize the moment. We are confident that with Canada’s leadership in sustainable mining standards and new and significant government commitments, our mining sector has the tools and support to provide the responsibly sourced minerals vital to industries and businesses around the world.