Mineral security is essential to achieving sustainable development goals.
By Mark S. Kuhar
A new paper by researchers from The University of Queensland (UQ) is calling for a public conversation about why minerals are not explicitly referenced in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The team has also coined the term “mineral security” to help integrate minerals into the SDG framework.
The SDGs were adopted by the United Nations in 2015 as a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all, and while natural resources such as energy, water, air, forests and wildlife feature prominently, the words mineral, mining and miner are not mentioned.
Lead author Professor Daniel Franks from UQ’s Sustainable Minerals Institute said one reason may be the dominant perception of minerals, mining and miners as villains in the planet’s twin crises of environmental sustainability and global poverty.
“This is understandable – the role that the mining of minerals has played in, for example, the colonisation of nations and the creation of environmental problems is very defining and much more visible than the role minerals have played in enabling our shelter, sustenance, transport, energy and communication,” he said.
Professor Franks and his co-authors Julia Keenan and Degol Hailu suggest this narrow framing has implications for global development.
“It is little known that in fact metals make up a minority of mineral production by volume and value,” they stated. “The majority of what we mine as a society are local minerals, mined by local people, for local development, surpassing the production of large-scale multi-national mining companies. Most of the minerals and materials that are mined for human use are done so barely noticed by society – whether it be glass, roof tiles, bridges or roads, the public is largely unaware of the minerals that are their main ingredients.”
Professor Franks believes that new ways of describing the totality of minerals contribution and the links to poverty reduction and human development are needed.
“In our article we introduce three concepts: development minerals, mineral security and mineral poverty to take a human-centred perspective to mineral supply,” Franks said.
Issues for consideration in assessments of mineral security:
Shelter. The affordability, accessibility and diversity of construction materials (especially in high-demand situations) impact the quality and cost of homes and buildings. Options include diversifying local production of building materials, supporting vernacular architecture and better integrating minerals into disaster planning such as post-disaster needs assessments. Pacific small island developing states, for example, currently face extremely high prices for imported portland clinker (the precursor of cement), which is severely limiting housing and infrastructure development.
Green industrialisation. The high price of mineral-based imports and the underdeveloped domestic extraction and beneficiation of industrial minerals limit and hinder structural transformation. Options include the substitution of key imports and building green industrialism around domestic industrial mineral production.
Energy. Energy security is undermined by out-of-reach prices for imported mineral products such as solar panels, wind turbines, and lithium and cobalt batteries. Substitutes for high-carbon-emissions portland cement are available from the calcination of local clays, cementitious mineral wastes (such as fly ash or slag) or the use of geopolymers.
Water and climate adaptation. Sustainable sources of aggregate for construction, land reclamation and coastal protection are needed to replace what is currently sourced from dynamic environments such as rivers, lakes and the ocean, with consequences for access to clean water.
Transport. The high construction and maintenance costs of imported asphalt limit the extent to which roads can be sealed. Alternatives include locally produced cobblestones and pavers. Increasing demand for sand, gravel and crushed stone, besides the impact on dynamic ecosystems, creates supply and affordability challenges to the construction of vital infrastructure.
Sustenance. The limited availability and high costs of mineral fertilisers and soil conditioners for agriculture disadvantage small producers. In Brazil, farmers have turned to local crushed stone to strengthen food security. These soil amendments have also been shown in some cases to remove atmospheric carbon dioxide. Agriculture and mining are linked in other ways with many artisanal and small-scale farmers and miners practising both mining and farming as a livelihood diversification strategy.
“Ahead of us now lies the task of utilizing these new concepts in such a way that minerals are a more central feature of the post-2030 development agenda and any revised formulation of the SDGs,” the paper concluded. “We will not pre-empt here the formulation that UN member states should settle on, whether it be the inclusion of a stand-alone goal or one that is integrated with other natural resources. However, we advocate taking advantage of the opportunity to build consensus during the implementation of the UNEA 5/12 resolution to activate these new concepts and build on the innovations in practice that they may usher in. Minerals and mining have enormous capacity to both enable and undermine the achievement of the SDGs. Our task is to make clear why minerals are worthy of inclusion in the ‘Future We Want’.”
Source: The University of Queensland Sustainable Minerals Institute.
THE DEVELOPMENT MINERALS STRATEGIC PROGRAM
The Development Minerals Strategic Program undertakes research, education, technical assistance and capacity building on the local materials most important for local development.
These minerals, known as “Development Minerals,” are economically important to the local economy and have a more direct impact on poverty reduction. The Program aims to bring evidence to policy makers, innovation to partners and new tools to realise sustainable development through the use of local minerals and materials.
The Development Minerals Program is dedicated to working collaboratively with a wide range of international development partners to improve sustainability and human development outcomes from Development Minerals, and to help realise the UN Sustainable Development Goals, particularly at the local level where minerals and materials are mined, processed, manufactured, and used. This work is enhanced through collaboration across the Sustainable Minerals Institute’s Centres and Programs and The University of Queensland (UQ).
The program works on a wide range of issues related to sustainable development.
- Enabling livelihoods.
- Urbanisation and infrastructure.
- Sustainable materials and resource efficiency.
- Reconstruction, peace, and security.
- Green industrialisation and agriculture.
The program aims to reduce poverty, improve livelihoods, and enhance sustainable development through a diverse range of activities, including:
- Capacity building / technical assistance.
- Policy advice and advocacy.
- Program delivery.
The Development Minerals Program has an inter-disciplinary group of social and environmental scientists, geologists, economists and engineers with hands-on development experience, particularly in the Global South.
The program team has real world experience as international development professionals for institutions such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), academic researchers and lecturers, and as consultants for bilateral and multilateral donors, industry, and government. The team has worked across 54 countries, covering 13 regions of the world, including in the Americas, Africa, South and Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, Europe, and Oceania.
Partners and projects
The Development Minerals research team is working with a number of organisations on a range of initiatives:
- United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO): Developing the ‘Stone for Development Work Integrated Learning course’, in partnership with UNESCO, to provide training and placements for students from UQ and the Pacific region and advance their practical knowledge of sustainable development.
- United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP): Publication of a UNEP and UQ report ‘Mineral Resource Governance and the Global Goals,’ from our work as UNEP’s technical partner on the implementation of the UN Environment Assembly Resolution on Mineral Resource Governance. This report supported a new resolution agreed at the UN Environment Assembly held in February 2022 in Nairobi, Kenya. We also contributed to the new UNEP report ‘Sand and sustainability: 10 Strategic Recommendations to Avert a Crisis’ through our work on sand sustainability, for which we were acknowledged as co-authors.
- UQ: Collaborating with UQ Global Engagement and Entrepreneurship and the UQ Faculty of Science, under the auspices of the QUEX Initiative, to develop a new Masters of Global Environmental Futures.
- World Bank: Ongoing delivery of our Delve Exchange knowledge network of artisanal and small-scale mining associations with the World Bank. The network now has over 700 active members in 6 regional exchange groups.
- Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN): Our work with ASEAN has influenced their Minerals Cooperation Action Plan 2021–2025. The plan was based on our report ‘Development Prospects of ASEAN Minerals Cooperation’ and as such the plan acknowledged our contribution.
- UQ Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN), Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, TARA, The Pacific Community, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Fiji Ministry of Lands and Mineral Resources: Introducing low carbon cement to the Pacific. Our work has received the support of Hon. Jone Usamate, Fiji Minister of Lands and Resources. Fiji plans to launch this major initiative at the COP 27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt in November 2022.