Energy Transition in the Mining Sector: Towards an Inclusive and Sustainable Approach

  • 2020/07/06     Dresden, Germany

    By Thiago Elert Soares and Natchiyar Balasubramamian

    As the world is finding new ways to become more environmentally sustainable, the global energy sector is shifting from fossil-based systems of production and consumption to renewable energy sources. In this regard, the mining sector is developing decarbonisation strategies to ensure an inclusive and effective transition in regions that traditionally relied on extractive industries.

    As a side event to the Dresden Nexus Conference (DNC2020), the virtual “Workshop on the Transition in Mining” was conducted on 2 June to encourage discussions related to the topic “Transition in Mining”, as well as advance circular economy practices towards a sustainable society.

    Such a structural transformation in the mining sector provides an opportunity to examine and exchange knowledge about the environmental, social, and economic impacts of this process on different actors at the local, national, and international level.

    The event was organised as a collaborative effort by UNU-FLORES, the Saxon State Ministry for Regional Development (SMR), and the Institute of Process Engineering and Environmental Technology of Technische Universität Dresden (TU Dresden).

    Participants across different sectors joined the workshop from different countries to discuss the environmental, social, and economic implications of the energy transition in the mining sector (Image: UNU-FLORES)

    In total, 26 participants, including government officials, members of multilateral organisations, representatives of the private sector, and researchers from the Czech Republic, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States joined the workshop, which was structured in four different parts.

    First, Mr Wolfram Günther, Saxon State Minister for Energy, Climate Protection, Environment and Agriculture and Mr Thomas Schmidt, Saxon State Minister for Regional Development welcomed the participants and delivered introductory remarks through video messages.

    In the second session, participants joined a virtual excursion to the recycling company Scholz Recycling GmbH in Espenhain, Germany, when they learned about the process of trading, processing, and recycling of steel and metal scrap.

    Virtual excursion to the recycling company Scholz Recycling GmbH in Espenhain, Germany (Image: UNU-FLORES)

    The third segment of the workshop featured presentations from leading experts in the field of circular economy, inviting participants to reflect on the driving forces and constraints associated with the process of transition in the mining industry.

    In the fourth and final segment, participants were divided into three different groups to discuss: (i) avenues for collaboration, (ii) systems approaches for advancing a sustainable and just transition, and (iii) the importance of environment and landscape development in the context of carbon-intensive regions in transformation.

    Based on the discussions and information shared during the workshop, it is evident that the transition in the mining sector offers significant socioeconomic opportunities but also enormous challenges for the different stakeholders involved in the process.

    Workshop participants widely discussed the importance of participatory approaches and strong engagement with local communities affected by the transformations in mining areas. In this sense, regional identities must be respected, and marginalised voices supported throughout the transition phase. Raising awareness of younger generations about the labour impacts and offering them new employment opportunities seem likewise to be a critical factor for a successful transition.

    Additionally, while it is crucial to understand different regional characteristics and avoid one-size-fits-all solutions, some areas offer the possibility to become role models for others. The preparations to phase out coal from Germany’s eastern region of Lusatia, for instance, was often mentioned as an opportunity to generate good practices for other areas and countries.

    Finally, various participants highlighted the value of research and scientific cooperation in strengthening evidence-to-policy linkages for success in mining transition programmes. In this respect, the workshop offered a unique chance for communicating ideas and practices for a just and viable energy transformation.

    Going forward, the dialogue generated at the workshop will lay the foundation for the Knowledge Academy for Transition: a hub with the long-term perspective of sharing expertise and enabling capacity development among policymakers, members of the private sector, and civil society for a sustainable transition. Considering the different socioeconomic and environmental impacts of the energy shift in the mining sector, integrated approaches examining the interrelations between the natural and social sciences could prove beneficial for all the actors involved.