Mining projects routinely require land that is already owned or occupied by other users. Historically, global mining interests have prevailed, often disrupting local social, environmental, and economic systems.
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In the context of climate change, there is pressure for markets to deliver more minerals and metals to support a rapid transition toward renewable energy technologies.
The threat of an irreversible climate disaster creates a new type of temporal ‘crunch’, as mineral resource markets hurry to deliver energy transition minerals and metals (ETMs). Amidst this rush, it is important to consider the pressures that will be placed on people in the locations where these minerals will be extracted.
Indigenous peoples’ claims to land are based on sets of collective rights that are recognised in international instruments, such as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).1 Research by the Sustainable Minerals Institute (SMI) shows that these lands overlap with the location of many resource projects set to enable the energy transition.
SMI has been working to understand the pressures that rights-holding groups may face as the world looks to mine its way out of the climate crisis. The results of its research highlight high exposure to risks and issues that land-connected peoples could encounter as energy markets adapt to changing global priorities.
In the international policy arena, it is now well-accepted that local and land-connected peoples should be consulted when resource development projects may affect them. Across most national and sub-national jurisdictions, community consultation is a requirement of project approval, as well as related environmental and social impact assessment processes.
The notion of free prior and informed consent (FPIC) is an internationally-accepted procedural mechanism to safeguard individual and collective rights, land and resources rights of certain groups, such as indigenous peoples, and their right to self-determination.
These rights to consultation and consent are invoked not just in major international instruments, such as UNDRIP, but by the global mining industry itself through voluntary commitments to consultation and consent, and through corporate standards and certification schemes. 2
Recent global trends suggest that the industry’s commitments are going to be increasingly more difficult to operationalise. In response to the climate crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war, major mining jurisdictions have started ‘simplifying’ and ‘relaxing’ regulatory requirements to ‘push’ and ‘unlock’ mining’s potential by ‘fast-tracking’ and ‘streamlining’ project approval and mine permitting processes.
This puts existing commitments to consultation and consent in jeopardy; by squeezing the timeframes within which to consult local and land-connected people, study the social and environmental impacts of different project propositions, agree on measures to reduce their effect, and to negotiate conditions of consent with rights-holding groups.
Resource developers cannot disregard due process – no matter the pressures to extract minerals. If global priorities prevail at the expense of people’s rights and interests, the industry will re-produce conditions of social and environmental harm faster than it has in the past.The pressures and trade-offs between the local and global must be part of international policy debates if the mining industry is to claim any positive contribution to a ‘just’ energy transition. To read more, check out the SMI’s latest research. 3
- ‘United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples’, United Nations, (13 September 2007), www.un.org/development/desa/indigenouspeoples/wp-content/uploads/sites/19/2018/11/UNDRIP_E_web.pdf
- ‘Indigenous Peoples and Mining: Position Statement’, ICMM, (16 May 2013), www.icmm.com/en-gb/our-principles/position-statements/indigenous-peoples
- OWEN, J.R., KEMP, D., HARRIS, J., LECHNER, A.M., and LÈBRE, É., ‘Fast track to failure? Energy transition minerals and the future of consultation and consent’, Energy, Research & Social Science, Volume 89, (July 2022), www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2214629622001694