Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson
Minister of Natural Resources
Mediaplanet sat down with the Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson to learn about some of the most pressing environmental challenges we face today and how they’re working with all stakeholders to drive our transition to a sustainable, just, and secure Canada for future generations.
How does your government plan to support the development and extraction of critical minerals in Canada, and what role do these minerals play in the transition to a low-carbon economy?
Canada is already a global leader in the production of several critical minerals, including those that go into battery metal supply chains. Canada is the top global producer of potash, the world’s fourth-largest primary aluminum producer, is set to become a major producer of scandium, and is ranks among the top five global producers for indium, niobium, platinum group metals, titanium concentrate and uranium. We also have some of the largest reserves in the world of Rare Earth Elements (REEs) and have a number of high-grade, quality deposits of a range of critical minerals that will help meet growing domestic, North American and global demand. Canada is also one of the only jurisdictions in the western hemisphere with deposits of all the minerals needed for advanced batteries. Canada has existing production or reserves of all the critical minerals required to produce advanced batteries for EVs, including nickel, graphite, cobalt, copper, lithium, and manganese. Canada also has an abundance of rare earth elements to make permanent magnets for EV traction motors.
As the foundation on which modern technology is built, critical minerals represent a generational opportunity for Canada’s workers, economy, and net-zero future. From solar panels to semiconductors, wind turbines to advanced batteries for storage and transportation, the world needs critical minerals to build the products of tomorrow. Simply put, there is no energy transition without critical minerals.
That is why Canada released the Critical Minerals Strategy, supported by CAD $3.8 billion from Budget 2022. By growing Canadian expertise at every point along the critical mineral value chain — from mining to manufacturing to recycling — the Government of Canada will create good jobs, build a strong, globally competitive economy, and take real action to fight climate change.
It will do so through 6 strategic focus areas and initiatives:
- Driving Exploration, Research & Development, and Innovation
- Accelerating Responsible Project Development
- Building Sustainable Infrastructure
- Advancing Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples
- Growing a Diverse Workforce and Prosperous Communities
- Strengthening Global Leadership and Security
By providing financial and administrative support to accelerate the development of strategic projects in critical mineral mining, processing, manufacturing, and waste reduction (e.g., through recycling and mining value from waste), the Government of Canada seeks to strengthen its already world-class mining industry. Support also includes strategic investments to unlock potential in critical-mineral-rich regions, leveraging the resources and expertise of federal trade and business development organizations such as the Business Development Bank of Canada, Export Development Canada, and the Canadian Commercial Corporation. Finally, it also means capitalizing on existing programs such as the Strategic Innovation Fund, which is already making significant investments in critical mineral value chains.
How can clean energy assist Canada in accomplishing its critical mineral strategy, and in what ways will it strengthen Canada’s supply chain?
We are proud that nearly 83 per cent of electricity produced in Canada comes from low- or non-emission sources, and we have committed to an ambitious plan to reduce emissions by 40 per cent by 2030 as outlined in the Emissions Reduction Plan. We are committed to achieving a net-zero electricity system by 2035, and have charted an ambitious path to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. To achieve these goals, in part, the federal government is investing in clean energy production and technologies through programs such as the Smart Renewables and Electrification Pathways Program, which provides up to $1.564 billion over eight years for renewable energy and electrical grid modernization projects.
In order to secure and create jobs, to grow the industries, and to lead the world with the resources and technologies it will need for generations to come, I launched the Regional Energy and Resources Tables in June 2022. The Regional Tables are part of a collaborative initiative with the provinces and territories designed to identify, prioritize and pursue opportunities for job creation, economic growth for a low-carbon future, and investment in renewable energy technology and infrastructure. To date, the tables for British Columbia, Manitoba, and Newfoundland and Labrador were set up during Phase 1 of the rollout. New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, the Northwest Territories, and the Yukon were set up with Phase 2, and Ontario with Phase 3. We look forward to working with all jurisdictions in the future.
Many of the provinces and territories that have since joined the tables have expressed significant interest in the exploration and development of critical mineral opportunities. Through the Regional Tables, the federal government will be able to work with provincial and territorial jurisdictions to align funding and resources needed to develop these and ensure that this is done in a manner that takes advantage of Canada’s abundant clean energy infrastructure. As we move forward towards a clean future, we are committed to working with provinces and territories, industry and Indigenous partners to develop the Critical Minerals Strategy in a sustainable way across Canada.
What is your message to Canadian mining companies and investors about the importance of responsible and sustainable mining practices in the production of critical minerals?
Critical minerals are essential to meet our climate goals and transition to a prosperous net-zero economy. Current geopolitical dynamics have contributed to stresses within critical minerals value chains, leaving many of Canada’s friends and allies looking for secure, reliable supplies of these resources and the clean technologies they enable. As countries around the world work to secure access to these resources, it is equally important that the path to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero is built with a human rights–based approach, a commitment to sustainability and the highest environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards.
That is why in December, I announced at COP15 that Canada, along with Australia, France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, launched the Sustainable Critical Minerals Alliance to drive the global uptake of environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive and responsible mining, processing and recycling practices and responsible critical minerals supply chains.
The Alliance aligns with the G7 2030 Nature Compact commitment to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030 through a globally wide system change to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) with a focus on sustainable and inclusive development.
Through the Sustainable Critical Minerals Alliance, members will voluntarily work toward developing sustainable and inclusive mining practices and sourcing critical minerals that:
- Employ a Nature-Positive Approach by encouraging industry practices or collaborating with industry on practices that prevent biodiversity loss, protect species at risk, support nature protection and minimize pollution, including driving toward net-positive benefits to the natural environment;
- Support Local and Indigenous Communities by respecting the respective rights and interests of local and Indigenous communities through engagement; promoting safe working conditions and responsible labour standards, diverse and inclusive workforces, supporting safe living conditions; and including members of Indigenous and local communities in economic benefits from mining that affects their well-being;
- Help Fight Climate Change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and working toward achieving net-zero emissions by no later than 2050, and promoting mining, processing and recycling processes that advance sustainability through ESG standards;
- Restore Ecosystems by adopting requirements for reclamation and remediation to close and return mine sites to their natural state where feasible and holding responsible parties accountable for environmental harm;
- Build a Circular Economy by promoting material stewardship, including by-products and recovery from waste, keeping products in use longer as well as accelerating the reuse and recycling of critical minerals, which may reduce the number of new mines required to supply the minerals needed; and
- Foster Ethical Corporate Practices through sustainability reporting to investors and the public and by implementing due diligence in mineral supply chains as laid down in relevant internationally accepted guidelines.
Members of the Alliance welcome and encourage collaboration with Indigenous communities, non-governmental organizations, industry and other non-state actors, as well as actions taken domestically and globally to advance the objectives of the Sustainable Critical Minerals Alliance and call on others to join.