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As concerns about China’s dominant economic position in industry mount, Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson is unveiling a new international alliance aimed at securing the critical minerals needed to transition off fossil fuels.

Wilkinson announced the Sustainable Critical Minerals Alliance Monday at the United Nations biodiversity conference underway in Montreal, days after Canada published its critical minerals strategy to grow the sector domestically. The new alliance includes Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Australia and Japan.

“Critical minerals are essential if we want to reach our climate objectives,” Wilkinson said. “At the same time, the processing, manufacturing and recycling of critical minerals are a generational opportunity for Canada, but also for our partners and allies.” Critical minerals refer to metals and minerals like lithium, nickel, copper and cobalt that are essential to the energy transition because they’re used for things like electric vehicle batteries, solar panels and wind farms.

“Today’s announcement is a step forward for a global economy that is more resilient, clean, inclusive and sustainable.”

Speaking to reporters earlier at the COP15 biodiversity conference, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau put the country’s focus on critical minerals more bluntly.

“We don't want to be reliant on authoritarian states for our sources,” he said. “So that's one of the reasons why Canada, over the past years, has really set up this entire supply chain.

“We suddenly bounced up to number 2 in the global rankings of battery supply chains right after China, out of nowhere, because we've been putting all these pieces into place,” he added.

The voluntary alliance aims to build market share for its members through collaboration. To do this, members are pledging to centre Indigenous communities and climate concerns in supply chains as it’s expected environmental, social and governance (ESG) metrics will become increasingly important for attracting investment.

For example, if a Canadian mining company can secure a high ESG rating by lowering its greenhouse gas emissions and employing a certain percentage of Indigenous people, it will be easier to attract investment from a U.K. bank.

“The mining industry has long been proven to be neither sustainable nor just in Canada and around the world," says @standearth's Alicia Guzmán as a new critical mineral alliance is launched at #COP15.

Specifically, the commitments countries in the alliance are taking on include adopting a “nature-positive” approach that prevents biodiversity loss, restoring ecosystems, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and building a circular economy by promoting the reuse and recycling of critical minerals. The voluntary commitments also include supporting local and Indigenous communities “by respecting the respective rights and interests” and fostering “ethical corporate practices,” which was not defined in the announcement.

The alliance is also calling for its members to co-operate on its vision of sustainable mining at international institutions like the United Nations Environment Assembly, the International Energy Agency, the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Mining is inherently environmentally destructive because it’s impossible to extract raw materials without disturbing the environment. Canadian mining companies have long been accused of carrying out human rights violations in South America.

A study from the Justice and Corporate Accountability Project, published in 2016 and updated in 2017, found 28 Canadian companies linked to violence in Latin America between 2000 and 2015. The report identified 44 deaths, 30 of which it considered “targeted,” as well as 406 injuries, 90 per cent of which occurred during protests. That study also found more mining companies active in Latin America are based out of Canada than any other, at 41 per cent.

Thousands of mining companies are also listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange, with 75 per cent of mining companies worldwide headquartered in Canada.

Amazonian Indigenous leaders from the Association of Brazil's Indigenous People protested outside the Canada Pavilion at COP15 Monday where the alliance was announced, chanting: “Mining out.”

“Legal and illegal mining is destroying the Amazonia, polluting the rivers and is one of the key drivers of violence against environmental defenders and Indigenous leaders in the region,” Alicia Guzmán, director of the Amazon program at Stand.earth, said in a statement. “The mining industry has long been proven to be neither sustainable nor just in Canada and around the world.”

At COP15, Amazonian Indigenous organizations representing 511 nations are calling for a declaration to protect 80 per cent of the Amazon by 2025 — effectively calling for a moratorium on industrial development in the region, which has already lost 17 per cent of its forest cover. The groups warn that if deforestation continues to make way for mining, oil and gas, and agriculture production, the Amazon could reach an “irreversible tipping point” that leads to “the dieback of the entire ecosystem.”

— With files from Natasha Bulowski

Updates and corrections

| Corrections policy
December 13, 2022, 10:50 am

The headline was updated to clarify Canada launched the alliance.

December 13, 2022, 11:50 am

The story was updated to include the organization protesting Amazonian Indigenous leaders are affiliated with.

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The Alliance talks a good line but most of its members have been members in good standing of long time colonial exploitation and have profitably dealt with authoritarian regimes throughout. The war against indigenous people in South and Central America - which is a proximate cause of indigenous refugees showing up at the U.S. border- is driven by the battle for mineral wealth extorted from those areas at the expense of indigenous land owners/holders. Few members of the alliance have local access to the minerals in question. Perhaps only Australia, Canada and U.S. One suspects the alliance will still be dependent on Africa and the totalitarians but possibly acting as a Bloc/Cartel can effect more favourable trade terms.