The mining and minerals sectors are in a challenging position when it comes to sustainable development. On the one hand, transitions to low- or zero-carbon energy systems and fulfilment of the UN 2030 Agenda will require large amounts of material resources. On the other hand, mining operations are associated with a range of sustainability issues including negative local environmental impacts, emissions of greenhouse gases and socioeconomic tensions. This is a dilemma for the mining sector and for society at large.
The project used exploratory scenarios as a tool to develop a set of action points for how the Swedish mining sector can navigate towards a sustainable future in an uncertain world. Input from several stakeholder workshops resulted in four scenarios that outline how society might evolve up until 2050 and how different circumstances might affect the Swedish mining sector. The process generated more than 200 suggested action points. These were screened for robustness, which resulted in a selection of 31 particularly important action points that were compiled into what could act as a draft sustainability roadmap for the Swedish mining sector. The 31 action points cover a broad array of topics that were compiled under six different headings. These are as follows:
- Develop a collaborative approach to sustainable raw materials supply
- Define “sustainable mining” in dialogue with the global community
- Develop the permitting processes, taking a wide range of sustainability considerations into account
- Make the mining sector an increasingly circular raw material hub for society
- Build credibility and create business value through transparency and traceability
- Strengthen engagement locally and nationally
SEI researchers then analysed the action points from a broader perspective, taking into account the UN 2030 Agenda as well as human rights and Indigenous rights. The analysis found many promising initiatives among the set of action points, including strong climate change mitigation ambitions, initiatives towards improved supply chain transparency and traceability, as well as more equitable dialogues with local actors impacted by mining projects. However, additional steps are recommended, notably the need for the Swedish mining industry to demonstrate leadership and take responsibility with regard to land use conflicts, especially pertaining to human rights and Indigenous Sami rights. Without a strengthened approach in this area, human rights issues and Indigenous rights issues are likely to remain unaddressed, reflecting poorly on the reputation of the mining industry and causing deeper regulatory uncertainty.
As part of a strategy to reduce the risk of land use conflict in the longer term, the SEI analysis also recommends that the Swedish mining sector continues to build on existing conceptual ideas of “zero-impact mining”, that envision a radical reduction in surface impacts of new mining projects.