On 27 January, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) organised a webinar together with Region Norrbotten and Region Västerbotten to launch a new report on the opportunities and challenges for mines and minerals in the two northernmost regions in Sweden. Representatives from the industry, academia, Sami Parliament and the European Commission participated together with regional councillors Nils-Olov Lindfors and Rickard Carstedt to discuss OECD recommendations and proposals for measures to develop and strengthen the mining industry.
North Sweden European Office (based in Brussels), together with the Northern Sparsely Populated Areas (NSPA) network, initiated a collaboration with the OECD that led to the territorial evaluation of the northernmost regions in Norway, Finland and Sweden in 2017. Since then, the OECD has provided a number of different studies and platforms for exchange of knowledge around regional development, including the OECD's mining region network in which Region Norrbotten and Region Västerbotten have engaged.
Potential to become a world leader in sustainability
Northen Sweden is one of the most important mining regions in Europe and has great potential to become a world leader in environmentally friendly mining. With the largest land area and the lowest population density in Sweden, Norrbotten and Västerbotten have the largest mineral reserves in the country, of which 9 out of 12 active mines, as well as 90% of Europe's iron ore production. In addition, just over half of Europe's deposits of so-called critical minerals and metals are found in northern Sweden's bedrock.
In addition to the raw material itself, Norrbotten and Västerbotten have the opportunity to become world leaders in sustainable mining thanks to their unique competitive advantages. Stable and green energy supply, high-quality broadband connection, highly skilled workforce and a group of strong mining companies in close cooperation with universities in a variety of research areas, including reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
However, the regions have a number of structural challenges to address such as declining population and labour shortages, low interaction between local businesses, as well as increasing resistance to mining and severe land use conflicts. The study has identified a number of development areas for the regions to focus on in order to build on their strengths and address their challenges to strengthen and secure sustainable mining.
Some of the OECD recommendations:
- Define a long-term vision for Sweden as a world-leading mining nation, update the national mining strategy and strengthen Sweden's brand as a sustainable mining and mineral ecosystem.
- Improve the innovation system by strengthening cooperation between municipalities, regions, universities and businesses. Developing cluster and strategy work on smart specialisation, and promoting entrepreneurship and business culture in the regions
- Strengthen cooperation between Norrbotten and Västerbotten on mining and mineral issues by defining a vision and a common brand, internationalising their value chains through flagship projects and taking an active role within the EU's mining and mineral network.
- Coordinate and strengthen the work of vocational training and skills provision, as well as attracting, training and matching migrants with the needs of businesses for labour
- Clarify and increase the predictability of processing, decision-making processes and permit testing by introducing timetables, templates and procedures for ongoing dialogue and instructions.
- Develop clear and consistent guidelines for the mining industry for early and comprehensive consultations with local people and Sami actors, as well as strengthen the capacity of landowners and rightholders to participate in the consultations.
- Strengthen the link between regional development, strategic spatial planning and land use by coordinating dialogue between municipalities and regions on the opportunities and challenges of raw material extraction at regional level.
Sweden's mining and mineral strategy must be renewed
In the panel discussion that followed the presentation of the study, Nils-Olov Lindfors and Rickard Carstedt both stressed how important the study is for the regions and that cooperation at several levels, not least at EU level, is now required to find sustainable solutions and demonstrate the enormous potential for development that exists in Norrbotten and Västerbotten.
Overall, the OECD believes that Sweden lacks visions for sustainable development of the mining industry and how it can create growth for regions and local communities. Åsa Allan, Deputy CEO at Kaunis Iron, Pia Lundström, Sustainability Manager at Boliden and Jenny Greberg, Program Director at Swedish Mining Innovation and representative of Luleå University of Technology, all agreed on the mining industry's enormous importance for economic development and reduced carbon footprint, that resistance to mines is problematic, and that Sweden's mineral strategy needs to be updated and ambitions need to be raised.
Per-Olov Nutti, Chairman of the Sami Council, welcomed the study and was hopeful that greater influence for Sami actors and that sami rights would be respected to a greater extent in mining establishments. Nutti also stressed the importance of creating clear and effective guidelines for companies and other stakeholders to be consulted on land use.
Link to policy highlights can be found here
Link to the full report can be found here