As global demand for solar panels and other green technology grows, so will pressure on Canada’s mining sector to produce the minerals and metals required to harness clean energy.
This means that the mining sector needs to focus on environmentally-responsible practices in order to avoid causing ecological damage, according to a new report from Simon Fraser University.
“A lot of Canadians aren’t necessarily associating the transition to clean energy with new opportunities for Canada’s mining sector,” said Dan Woynillowicz who is a policy director at Clean Energy Canada, part of the SFU Centre for Dialogue.
The country has the potential to supply a significant amount of minerals and metals, including copper, silver, and tellurium, that go into clean energy technologies such as solar panels, wind turbines, and electric car batteries.
“Canada is home to 14 out of the 19 metals and minerals that go into manufacturing solar panels,” Woynillowicz noted. “There’s a significant opportunity for Canada’s mining sector and mining communities to capitalize on projected growth in solar power.”
The price of solar energy has decreased significantly over the last decade and it is becoming increasingly competitive as a low-cost source of electricity.
However, the booming market for Canadian-mined clean energy materials raises the potential for environmental disasters such as the 2014 tailings pond breach at the Mount Polley copper mine in BC.
According to the report, this means the country needs to take measures to ensure mining is done responsibly.
“I think there’s an opportunity for Canada to be producing metals and minerals in a way that is responsible and sets a high bar for the industry as to the kinds of performance that should be required around the world as well,” explained Woynillowicz.
In countries where these metals and minerals are found, there is often a history of weak performance for environmental standards, Indigenous rights, or worker safety, he added.
Whether or not responsible mining will occur is going to be a question of whether British Columbians and Canadians are willing to support this mining activity.
“We’ve seen a lot of opposition to things like pipeline and tar sand projects because I think Canadians have lost faith in the government’s ability to oversee these projects and for the operators of those projects to develop them in a responsible way,” said Woynillowicz.
The government and mining companies have to acknowledge that “unless there are environmental regulations and environmental assessment and enforcement of the rules that are sufficiently rigorous, then Canadians are not going to support [additional] mining activities. It simply won’t happen here,” he said.
This will not only create a missed opportunity for economic growth, but it means that the mining for these materials will likely take place in another country that does not have environmental protection measures in place either, Woynillowicz noted.
The report encourages the mining industry and policy makers to develop strict regulations to ensure that Canadians have confidence that the environment will be protected.
“If that isn’t in place, then I don’t imagine we are going to see more mining activities because there will be a lot of opposition and protest to it,” Woynillowicz said.