Toward a just minerals transition law that benefits the poor, doesn’t exhaust ecosystems
The threats posed by the climate crisis are well established, and the need to shift from dirty energy to renewable energy, or energy transition, is no longer up for debate. But materials and infrastructure for renewable energy will drive demand for energy transition minerals (ETMs) by 500 percent, according to the World Bank. If coal mining (the principal culprit behind global warming) is disastrous for the planet, the negative footprint of metallic minerals mining is the stuff of lore.
Minerals are considered the building blocks of modern society, no less; they are responsible for many of the systems that hold commerce, transportation, infrastructure, energy, among others, in place. But mining comes with a long laundry list of impacts on biodiversity, water supply, agriculture, livelihood, health, and so on. Mining is, thus, a necessary evil.
However, the majority of the mining today flows out of the logic of extractivism, which exploits natural resources primarily for export. As such, it includes the mining of gold, which is largely for ornamentation. Eduardo Gudynas proposes a better framework for mining: indispensable extraction, which allows mining only what is absolutely needed for social well-being. This proposal requires the reimagining of the development model governments use to plan economies, one that doesn’t exhaust ecosystems.
Energy transition certainly falls under the idea of indispensable extraction. But the urgent need for the transition does not give corporations an access pass to all areas with minerals, of which the Philippines has abundant reserves in a third of its land area, purportedly to the tune of $1 trillion. The fifth most mineralized country in the world, the Philippines has at least five ETMs. This makes the country an attractive destination for large corporations and countries with an eye to cash in on so-called green investments. Based on a recent spatial analysis, most of the ETMs can be found in indigenous and peasant lands in the global South. The production of ETMs, therefore, will foster energy colonialism.
To manage the market demand for transition minerals in the Philippines, and for minerals in general, the government can no longer rely on the present mining law. The 1995 Philippine Mining Act liberalized the mining industry—to disastrous results. Many a complaint lobbed at the industry stems from the weak environmental and social safeguards in the law.
We offer instead the Alternative Minerals Management bill (AMMB). The AMMB is a measure that has been gathering dust in Congress, but whose latest version contains provisions that support a just minerals transition. This refers to the handling of minerals production based on the principles of justice and equity. A just minerals transition is anchored on the abovementioned idea of indispensable extraction. It must also support the transformation of the economy itself so that it benefits all, especially the poor. It must observe stringent protocols in the sourcing of minerals, as well as adhering to circular economy (or closing the loop between the production of materials and waste).
Finally, a just minerals transition provides communities with decision-making roles, benefits sharing, and access to remedies in cases of violations of regulatory laws. The AMMB is the only viable policy for managing minerals in the country. The catchy “responsible mining” slogan still falls short of the safeguards and principles that must underpin an ecologically invasive pursuit, such as mining. Absent a comprehensive policy, the Philippines will fall prey to investments that will no doubt fuel economic growth or the shift to clean energy, but which will also upset the ecological balance that sustains people and the planet.