Mining, minerals and limits: grounding the green transition

Online event, Wednesday February 1, 7:30pm Irish time
Hosted by CAIM, Futureproof Clare and Feasta

Please scroll down to view the videos from this event. 

Irish State policy is strongly in favour of minerals mining in Ireland, arguing that this is vital because minerals are components of many renewable-energy technologies. In the words of a recent official mining policy statement, “it will be important that Ireland continue to play its part in producing the raw materials required for the [green] transition.”(p4)

The International Energy Agency predicts that in order to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, mineral inputs to the economy will need to increase sixfold by 2040. While some of this demand could be met through recycling, the implication nonetheless is that mineral mining will need to expand enormously.

However, as an independent UK parliamentary briefing states, “land use changes within [mined areas] are often drastic and irrevocable, and mines may have indirect impacts over a much greater area than the mine site itself” (p20).

Given this, it is unsurprising that there is increasing fear and anger in rural communities around Ireland – and elsewhere in the world – about the impact of potential mineral mining projects in their areas. There is a perception that – as one community activist puts it – “predatory multinational mining companies are circling Ireland, and a weak government is sending a signal internationally that we’re open for business.”

It is striking that over a quarter of the island of Ireland is covered by prospecting concessions – in stark contrast to England, Scotland and Wales, none of which have more than 8% coverage.

How can a way forward be found on this issue?

Most Irish people agree that climate disruption is a serious threat. But does this truly mean that some communities and ecosystems – both in Ireland and elsewhere – must be forced to become mineral mining ‘sacrifice zones’?

What kinds of economic assumptions are embedded in the IEA and other official bodies’ projections of future mining demand? Do these assumptions stand up to scientific scrutiny, and if not, what kinds of assumptions should we be basing our future planning on?

And how can decision-making about mining proposals be made as fair as possible?

In this online event, we heard first from Fidelma O’Kane, who talked about her experience in Save Our Sperrins, an environmental interest group based in the heart of the Sperrins in County Tyrone who want to see good planning in the public interest.

Next, Gerry McGovern, the author of “World Wide Waste”, spoke about the history of mining and the issues and challenges arising from the adoption of ‘post-fossil-fuel’ technology.

Finally, Caroline Whyte of Feasta discussed the economic dynamics behind current mining policy, the potential for these to change, and a possible future strategy for those who support the green transition to renewable energy but who also wish to ensure that we do not just careen from the fossil-fuel ‘frying pan’ straight into the mineral ‘fire’.

Some of the organisations and research that Caroline mentioned during her talk:

Wellbeing Economy Alliance (WEAll)

WEAll Ireland Hub

Doughnut Economics

‘Large inequality in international and intranational energy footprints between income groups and across consumption categories’ (Nature Energy)

‘Overconsumption, the climate emergency and the scientific community’ (Julia Steinberger writing in Brave New Europe)

Climate Inequality Report 2023 (World Inequality Lab)

‘Decent living gaps and energy needs around the world’  (Kikstra et al, Environmental Research Letters)

Feasta’s Beyond GDP project

Girls Riding Bikes to School metric

‘Is it possible to achieve a good life for all within planetary boundaries?’ (Jason Hickel, Third World Quarterly)

‘Green Mining is a Myth’ (European Environmental Bureau)

‘Metals for a Green and Digital Europe: An Agenda for Action’ (GEF/WBG)

Cap and Share

Tax Justice Network

Transnational Institute

International Movement for Monetary Reform

Basic Income


Featured image source: https://www.istockphoto.com/fr/photo/pollution-de-leau-gm155749159-21980017 (published with permission)

Note: Feasta is a forum for exchanging ideas. By posting on its site Feasta agrees that the ideas expressed by authors are worthy of consideration. However, there is no one ‘Feasta line’. The views of the article do not necessarily represent the views of all Feasta members.