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CMA Breakfast Chat: Discussing the UK’s Critical Minerals Strategy

In September 2022, the Critical Minerals Association (CMA) reviewed the UK’s inaugural critical minerals strategy in a webinar hosted by CMA Founder Jeff Townsend.

The panel was comprised of leading figures from the critical minerals sector: Dennis Rowland (Senior Geologist and Project manager at Cornwall Resources), Guy Winter (Energy and Natural Resources Partner at Fasken) and Lucy Crane (ESG and Sustainability Manager at Cornish Lithium).

The event began with a brief overview of the panellist’s thoughts and opinions on the strategy. The consensus was that whilst the release of the strategy was welcome, details in regard to delivery were at times opaque. As Lucy Crane said: “It marks an important step change from a few years ago when critical minerals were not really on the government’s radar at all. However, it is slightly light regarding the details of delivery.” This sentiment was echoed by Dennis Rowland’s hope that “there are significant follow-ups to flesh out the strategy in future.”

Context of the strategy

The panel subsequently discussed the context behind key components of the strategy. Jeff Townsend noted the process by which critical minerals were identified as a potential cause for concern: “The strategy is set in the context of the identification of critical minerals by the newly established Critical Minerals Intelligence Centre (CMIC); there remain some questions about the processes behind these mineral’s identification.”

This point was reinforced by Dennis Rowland’s and Lucy Crane’s observations that notable minerals were omitted from the UK’s critical mineral list, such as nickel, aluminium and copper. Guy Winter, who sits on the UK Government’s Critical Minerals Expert Committee, explained to the panel: “It is important to mention that there is a watchlist, meaning there will be an annual review of the critical minerals on the list. This is a healthy process, enabling adaptation to the scarcity of particular minerals. So, as technology develops in the downstream markets, the UK can move nimbly and accordingly.”

In spite of this, there was widespread consensus that the CMIC was of the utmost importance to guiding decision-making by government, as well as industry, to mitigate risks to supply security, help deliver economic prosperity and create opportunities for UK businesses in domestic and international critical mineral supply chains.

ACE (Accelerate, Collaborate and Enhance)

The next portion of the panel’s discussion centred around the ACE component of the strategy. Accelerate was addressed first and attracted the most opprobrium of the three sections of ACE. Central to Accelerate is the goal of maximising what the UK can produce domestically, where viable for businesses and where it works for communities and the natural environment. Jeff Townsend raised specific barriers to implement “three or four aspects of the Accelerate section”. Most notably, “the British Geological Survey’s lack of resources, which prevent it tracking minerals on a UK-wide level.” The following section, Collaborate, aims to diversify supply across the world so it becomes more resilient as demand grows. This aim was endorsed by the entire panel. Guy Winter expressly noted how elements of Collaborate could be employed to “establish an effective division of labour between the UK and its allies, thereby avoiding technological replication across partner nations.”

The final section, Enhance, is directed toward boosting global environmental, social and governance performance (ESG), reducing vulnerability to disruption and levelling the playing field for responsible businesses. The panel was largely in agreement with the fundamental tenets of this section and only had supplementary suggestions. For instance, Dennis Rowland put forth the idea of establishing “global ESG borders, as we have already begun to discuss carbon borders.”

Audience Questions

The discussion culminated with a brief question and answer session, during which the panellists were asked about the top three things they want future iterations of the UK critical mineral strategy to extrapolate on. Jeff Townsend led with a simple trifecta of “finance, finance and finance.” Lucy Crane focused on research and development, specifically citing the need for “something tangible regarding the development of the critical mineral talent pipeline.” Dennis Rowland stated that the UK ought to “make planning, permitting and finance structures more efficient”. Whilst Guy Winter wanted “further international collaboration with the EU, whatever our political differences.” The panel’s overall view of the strategy was summated by Jeff Townsends’s closing remarks: “A huge opportunity… now we just have to take it.”

Watch the webinar here:

Article by Sam Howard, Public Affairs & Communications Intern, Critical Minerals Association

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