A critical minerals strategy helps countries secure a responsible, diverse, and stable supply of critical minerals to support technological advancement, national security, economic growth, and environmental responsibility. The release of Australia's Critical Minerals Strategy in June 2023 provides an opportunity to highlight the similarities between the strategies developed by both Australia and Canada.
Both Australian and Canadian strategies for critical mineral resources are derived from their prevalent supply of natural resources, particularly rich deposits of rare earth elements (Natural Resources Canada, 2022; Department of Industry, Science and Resources, 2023). Australia’s and Canada’s critical minerals strategies aim to not only ensure a stable supply of critical minerals but also to set a global standard for responsible resource development.
In addition to sharing the objective of advancing geological surveys and mineral exploration, both countries emphasize their unique commitments to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) practices. This article explores how integrating closure planning into the life of mine planning can strengthen critical mineral projects and facilitate progressive reclamation initiatives throughout the mine’s operational life.
To strategically develop critical minerals resource projects, one of the objectives of the Australian critical minerals strategy is to improve sovereign capability for downstream minerals processing in order to extract the full value from the natural resources (Department of Industry, Science and Resources, 2023). This transition comes with challenges, including technical complexities, the need for high capital investments, additional energy infrastructures especially if critical minerals operations are remote, and market risks due to the limited data available to accurately forecast pricing (Department of Industry, Science and Resources, 2023).
The importance of secure financing for critical minerals projects is emphasized in the Australian strategy in order to reduce investment risks (Department of Industry, Science and Resources, 2023). Through the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF), $500 million will be allocated to support critical minerals projects aligned with the strategy. Australia’s critical mineral strategy also commits to establishing a National Reconstruction Fund for renewables and low-emission technologies (Department of Industry, Science and Resources, 2023).
To boost export value, Australia plans to prioritize critical mineral development projects that include domestic processing like the refinement of lithium to battery-grade lithium hydroxide (Department of Industry, Science and Resources, 2023).
One objective of Canada’s critical minerals strategy is to promote strong environmental management by reducing environmental impacts from mining operations and incorporating Traditional Knowledge into decision-making to align with the new Indigenous Policy Framework for Project Reviews and Regulatory Decisions (Natural Resources Canada, 2022).
Like most mining operations, critical mineral projects are resource-intensive, require significant capital investments, and are subject to rigorous regulatory assessments to meet high environmental and social standards (Natural Resources Canada, 2022). To streamline the approval processes for critical minerals projects from exploration to production, the Canadian federal government will be providing financial and administrative support for critical minerals mining, processing, manufacturing, and waste reduction projects, which include the circular principles of recycling and extracting value from waste (Natural Resources Canada, 2022).
Canada’s strategy also includes mandating the Critical Minerals Centre of Excellence (CMCE) to assist project developers in navigating regulatory processes and promoting collaboration with Indigenous peoples, provinces, and territories to meet their climate and economic objectives (Natural Resources Canada, 2022). The CMCE aims to coordinate critical mineral programs and facilitate regional engagement and communication within the sector to promote project development while respecting Indigenous rights and environmental protection (Natural Resources Canada, 2022).
Integrated life of mine planning for critical minerals projects encompasses the comprehensive, long-term strategizing of mining activities, efficient resource management, environmental stewardship, and socially responsible mining practices. It involves optimizing the entire mine lifecycle, from exploration, permitting, design, construction, production, processing, closure, and post-mining land use and adaptive management.
Integrated life of mine planning optimizes the use of resources throughout the mine’s lifecycle. By keeping clear operational and post-mining land use objectives in mind, careful planning and scheduling of mining activities can ensure a consistent supply of raw materials required for the low-emission energy transition while minimizing environmental impacts.
Integrated life of mine planning also involves partnerships with Indigenous rightsholders to embed multigenerational land and water stewardship principles into the full mining lifecycle, which aligns strongly with Canada's environmental and Indigenous collaboration commitments.
At Okane, we advocate for integrating mine closure into all phases of mining projects to maximize asset value while achieving positive environmental and social outcomes. Leveraging our global expertise in integrated life of mine planning, we collaborate closely with our clients to develop a life of mine plan that encompasses input from mine operators, stakeholders, rightsholders, and regulatory bodies to embed progressive closure activities into short and long-term mine plans. We identify opportunities to enhance the operating and closure plans to address ESG investment criteria, post-mining risks or liabilities, and closure costs.
Integrated life of mine planning aligns with Canada’s and Australia’s critical mineral strategies’ broader objectives for responsible critical mineral development and environmental management. By taking an integrated life of mine planning approach, critical minerals projects can enable a consistent and responsible supply of resources, minimize environmental impacts, reduce waste, and enhance full-lifecycle economic viability.
Department of Industry, Science and Resources. (2023). Critical Minerals Strategy 2023–2030: June 2023. Retrieved from the Australian Government Department of Industry, Science and Resources website: https://www.industry.gov.au/sites/default/files/2023-06/critical-minerals-strategy-2023-2030.pdf
Natural Resources Canada. (2022). The Canadian Critical Minerals Strategy: From exploration to recycling: Powering the green and digital economy for Canada and the world. Retrieved from the Government of Canada website: https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/nrcan-rncan/site/critical-minerals/Critical-minerals-strategyDec09.pdf