Climate change is real. Most of us accept it causes extreme weather events and agree that the rapid rate of change is related to the cumulative concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The government of Canada would like to play a role in addressing this global crisis – but with only 2% of global GDP and less than 0.5% of the global population, our global influence is small.  Unless we leverage the sectors of our economy where we have disproportionate strength.  

Minister McKenna continues to promote the idea that we need to remove carbon from the economy – and we do. But we cannot afford to reduce the material, people and ideas that fossil fuels currently move around the economy.  What we must do, is to replace fossil fuels with low-carbon electricity, but not just in Canada – globally.  This will mean producing much more of the metals that enable the generation, transmission, storage and utilization of electricity.  Too many people are unaware that electric vehicles and power infrastructure depend on copper, and that batteries still depend mostly on nickel and lead, although other metals such as lithium are becoming important. The fact is, a low-carbon future is a higher-metal future – and this means more mining.  

Unfortunately, the global metal mining industry today is incapable of responding to a significant increase in demand for these metals.  Fewer discoveries of large surface copper deposits have already forced an increase in production from higher-cost underground mines that are struggling to deliver. Increased metal demand will further escalate prices; we need the global metal mining sector to produce more metals at a lower cost and with less environmental impact in order to drive lower-cost carbon out of the economy.  For this, we need disruptive, transformative innovation in the metal mining sector. 

Many of the technologies and IP needed to achieve this have already been developed by the small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) across Canada. Despite these SMEs committing over $1Bn of investments in the last 5 years, to co-fund late-stage demonstration projects that increase local economic activity, create employment and expand export opportunities that return long-term benefits to Canada, this government did not support them.  The government’s recent supercluster choices were in large sectors worthy of investment, but sectors where we are unlikely to have global influence.   

The Canadian metal mining sector has always had a strong influence on the global sector. Canadian companies played a major role in developing technology platforms that have been used globally for the last three decades. Many people think mining is dirty, old-fashioned, environmentally negative – and in decline. Well, let’s hope not – we will all need more metals to power our lives in the future.  The reality is that metal mining in Canada is a high-tech sector with one of the best safety records and the smallest energy and GHG footprints of all industries. On environmental issues, major mining jurisdictions around the world look to Canada for solutions and Sudbury is one of the best global examples of recovering land and water from industrial damage – long thought to be scientifically impossible.  And nowhere in the mining world today is there more innovation potential; the centre of a national network of highly innovative SMEs and over a dozen mining-related research and innovation organizations expanding international relationships.  

Retaining manufacturing capacity is crucial to securing middle-class jobs, especially jobs that are not easily exported. It is time for this government to invest in the Canadian metal mining sector and accelerate the transition from resource production to a Global Mining Technology Centre. The metal mining sector is one of the few that can build a resilient, high-tech manufacturing base here at home and realize its global export potential. And it is the only sector that can offer Canada a credible leadership role in impacting the global climate crisis. Metal mining is one of Canada’s strengths – and a big part of the global climate solution.

Article by: Douglas Morrison, CEMI – President and CEO