By recently co-signing a series of opinion pieces that ran across the country, federal Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan has crossed an ethical line.
In the letters, O’Regan joined the CEO of Canada’s largest mining lobby group to promote the interests of the very same industry the minister is supposed to regulate on behalf of all Canadians.
Under cover of the need to supply materials for a “green economy,” the letters use overstated rhetoric commonly employed by the Mining Association of Canada to further its interests in extracting more raw materials at the expense of alternative solutions.
Not once do the letters mention the potential of policies for recycling, a circular economy, or mineral efficiency to help supply those materials instead of digging more holes in the ground.
Nor do the letters acknowledge the increasing social and environmental costs associated with mining raw materials, including to climate, water, biodiversity, and Indigenous Peoples.
Nobel prize-winning economist George Stigler said the “theory of capture” occurs when a government agency essentially operates as an advocate for the industries it’s supposed to regulate, often leading to a distorted perspective of the facts, values, and opportunities that should inform broader public policies.
Instead of following the lead of the Mining Association of Canada, O’Regan should listen to independent experts and scientists, including those on the UN International Resource Panel, who urge high-income countries to drastically reduce their material consumption as a fundamental condition of environmental sustainability.
According to the latest review by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Canada ranks worst of all G7 countries in mineral efficiency, recycling, and circular economy, and remains among the most material-intensive economies in the world.
The UN Environment Programme estimates that Canada’s domestic annual material consumption is 28.8 tonnes per capita, higher than the United States’ (18.6 tonnes), twice global and European averages (12.3 and 14 tonnes, respectively), and 14 times the average material footprint of low-income countries (two tonnes).
Mining has also become the largest producer of solid waste in the country. It today generates 30 times the amount of waste that all Canadians, municipalities, and other industries combined produce. Much of this waste is toxic and a liability for future generations.
If O’Regan truly wants to support a transition to a green economy, he should take bold steps to reverse these trends.
The Canadian Minerals and Metals Plan should prioritize solutions that shrink material footprints, rather than the extraction of raw materials.
We support the recent call by the Gaia Foundation and 180 scientists, communities, and organizations to urgently de-carbonize and de-materialize our economies at the same time.
To consume within ecological limits, this European-led initiative proposes legally binding targets to reduce Europe’s material footprint by up to 70 per cent from current levels, down to 4.4 tonnes per capita.
For the transportation sector, this means not only setting targets for zero-emission vehicles, but also targets to cap — and, ultimately, dramatically reduce — the number of vehicles on the roads, while increasing high-quality and affordable public transport, especially within and between large urban areas.
Recent studies suggest that, with proper policies for, and investments in, recycling alone, mining of raw materials for batteries could be reduced by up to 60 per cent, while also bolstering downstream economies.
We invite O’Regan to listen to all Canadians, and to hear the growing demands by independent scientists, Indigenous Peoples, and organizations around the world to carefully rethink our economy, support a just transition, and not repeat the mistakes of the past.
Donna Ashamock is an Eeyou/Inninew (Cree) member affiliated with Fort Albany First Nation and is co-chair of MiningWatch Canada. Ugo Lapointe is the Canada program coordinator at MiningWatch Canada and an adviser to the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development’s 2019 audit of the protection of Canadian waters from mine effluents.
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