Subscribe to our newsletter

Mining’s Role in Europe’s Sustainable Future

International competition to secure critical raw materials is resulting in a once-ina- generation shift in Europe that’s focused on the importance of mining to the green energy transition

Chad Blewitt is the acting managing director of Rio Tinto’s Jadar Project, which is regarded as being among the most significant lithium deposits in Europe. The Serbia Government cancelled the project’s permits in January 2022, in response to protests in Belgrade over environmental concerns. Rio Tinto believes those concerns are unfounded and that Jadar’s lithium can be mined responsibly, meeting Serbian, European and international environmental standards.

While mining companies have the central responsibility in developing projects like Jadar, a joint approach between companies, communities, policymakers and other industry stakeholders, such as NGOs/CSOs, customers and suppliers, is needed to ensure critical raw materials are mined to the highest standards. The green and digital transitions are not possible without mining, though extracting the crucial minerals needs to be done responsibly. The economic and societal benefits generated by mining don’t need to come at the cost of the environment.

How can mining help address the climate crisis?

― There is a crunch coming that’s related to the demand and supply of critical raw materials. As the world races to decarbonise and transition away from fossil fuels, critical raw materials are key ingredients in many technologies that will support the green transition, such as batteries for electric vehicles, wind turbines, solar panels and electricity networks.

Demand, however, could outstrip supply. A World Bank report highlighted that the world needs an anticipated 500% more critical raw materials than are currently being produced to enable successful green and digital transitions by 2050. That’s the equivalent of three billion tons of minerals that need to be mined. Given this anticipated increase in demand, the mining industry is under constant scrutiny from investors, regulators, customers and society at large, in an effort to ensure a sustainable future doesn’t come at the expense of today’s environment.

Rio Tinto is investing in new technologies, new innovations and new ways of working to be significantly more sustainable and responsible

Rio Tinto is continuing to develop ways to meet demand, and minimise impacts. Scientists at our technology centre in Sorel-Tracy, Quebec, Canada, have found a way to extract and purify scandium – a critical mineral used in aerospace and clean technology – from titanium dioxide production waste.

To allow stakeholders to track the impact of our operations, this March Rio Tinto became the first major mining company to publish site-by-site water usage data in 35 countries, through an interactive map on our website. The database details permitted surface water allocation volumes, the site’s annual allocation usage and the associated catchment runoff from average annual rainfall estimates.

The company also recently launched a new and interactive tailings map on the Rio Tinto website. Responsible tailings management is critical to ensure the safety of our employees and communities, and to protect the environment. It is fundamental for our business and social license.

What is Rio Tinto’s approach to sustainability and ESG standards?

― Mining is changing. Rio Tinto is investing in new technologies, new innovations and new ways of working to be significantly more sustainable and responsible. It is vital that we work with our communities to ensure they see a socioeconomic benefit while also helping society manage the green transition.

The green and digital transitions are not possible without mining, though extracting critical minerals needs to be done responsibly

To help meet growing demand for transparency and traceability of the products we sell, we created START. Like a “nutrition label” for aluminium, START tracks key information about where and how our aluminium products were produced.

What are your sustainability ambitions?

― Trust and credibility are key if Europe is to mine its own resources at scale, shorten supply chains and reduce its current reliance on imports. Rio Tinto has bold decarbonisation ambitions. We expect to invest $7.5 billion on switching to renewable power, electrifying processing and moving from mobile to electric fleets by the end of the decade, all whilst continuing to strengthen our social licence to operate.

In 2021, we set climate targets to reduce our scope 1 & 2 emissions by 15 per cent (from 2018 levels) by 2025 and 50 per cent by 2030, reaching net zero by 2050. These include direct and indirect emissions owned or controlled by the company. However, we know we won’t reach our goals simply by investing and allocating capital. We must also attract the right talent, deploy new technology at scale, secure the right approval from regulators and partner respectfully with local communities.

Why is mining critical raw materials a long-term commitment? ― Given that it can take decades for a mining project to become operational, and considering the long lifecycle of mines, it is in the best interests of any mining company to nurture mutually beneficial partnerships with local communities. Public acceptance is at the core of modern mining.

Mining activity also brings long-term economic development and an increase in living standards, such as job availability, more capital for the local community, and the development of related industries like cathode and battery factories in the host country. Community-led monitoring programmes and regulatory requirements, such as the EU battery passport regulation, ensure that this economic and social development from mining projects also translates into a sustainable commitment to the region and communities. Rio Tinto understands that trust has to be earned. And that’s not only for the future of mining – Europe’s green and digital transitions depend on it.

CHALLENGES

The crucial challenge for the mining industry is to demonstrate that 21st century mining can deliver the minerals the world needs, but in a way that minimises negative impacts, works with the communities in which it operates, brings social and environmental benefits and leaves former mining sites rehabilitated to the highest standards.

TRANSPARENCY

The approach to ensure these expectations are met is technology and transparency. Mining technology has evolved significantly in recent decades, and Rio Tinto is regarded as a leader in innovation. ESG is today central to our operations and the way we mitigate concerns. This involves being much more transparent and accountable.

START

As the first of its kind in the industry, START uses secure blockchain technology to provide information on ten criteria: carbon footprint, water use, recycled content, energy sources, community investment, safety performance, diversity in leadership, business integrity, regulatory compliance and transparency. This information is readily available via the START platform, where customers can view sustainability insights and manage orders..

Must Read

INA Fuels Green Transition with €98 Million Renewables Investment

Croatian oil company INA is steering a green course with a €98 million plunge into renewable energy projects, marking a significant pivot from its...

Milica Uraz, CEO, Steel Impex

Transform Waste into a Valuable Resource