On 7th September, at the 3rd United Nations Resource Management Systems Workshop (UNRMS) a variety of experts presented ideas on how socially and environmentally viable business models can provide paradigm shifts in resource management, including viewing resources as a service rather than a product.
Organised by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the online workshop brought together over 400 experts from across the globe to discuss how resource/raw material industries will need to transform to deal with energy transitions and critical materials (CM) challenges.
Met4Tech Researcher Dr. Jyoti Ahuja (University of Birmingham Law School) joined the 3rd UNRMS workshop as a panellist. Chaired by Karen Hanghoj (Director, British Geological Society), the stimulating panel discussion weighed the benefits and challenges of managing resources though leasing and servitisation models.
As a society, we have failed to build efficient models for maximising the value we extract from raw materials and must now develop alternative growth and business models to build a more circular economy. Charlotte Griffiths from the Sustainable Energy Division (UNECE) gave the welcome address and outlined the opportunities and challenges of the current global energy crisis in the midst of the ongoing existential climate change threats. The need to manage natural resources effectively, as Charlotte pointed out, has never been more pressing.
The aims of the UNRMS Resource Management Expert Group were outlined by Teresa Ponce de Leão (President of LNEG, Portugal/Chair of UNRMS Expert Group on Resource Management). These are principally; to raise awareness of CM challenges, formulate and test conceptual tools and finally to release a refined set of tools for wider use by government, academia and other stakeholders.
Public consultations for the draft UNRMS document will take place from September-November 2022, and the final version of the finalised tools is expected to release on 15 December 2022.
Our very own Professor Frances Wall from Met4Tech (University of Exeter) provided a very useful summary of the current work of the UNRMS Expert Group, explaining the process by which the framework and tools for measuring sustainable development will be developed. The participation and collaboration across sectors needed to achieve a circular economy for critical minerals in the UK is a key focus for Met4Tech.
Cornwall was used as a case study to illustrate the challenges and opportunities offered by the mining industry for the county and the UK. Frances described the renaissance of geological exploration in Cornwall (for materials such as lithium, tin, tungsten and copper), as well as a number of geothermal energy and offshore wind projects. Here is the UNECE Policy Brief that explores related issues.
Sigurd Heiberg (Chair, Commercial Working Group) spoke about plans to progress from UNFC (United Nations Framework Classification) to UNRMS. Sigurd described the expanded UNFC metrices for decision-making in regard to sustainable development. He also demonstratED a matrix that can be used to evaluate projects and policies for improving resource management.
Julian Hilton (Aleff Group, UK and Chair of SDG Working group) described how the UN Resource Management System group began, from the first presentation in 2017 to the publication of the UN Extractive Policy Brief May 2021
The new approach moves away from commodities-driven model to a resource-focussed model, especially on recognising resources as a service.
Traceability and trackability of both materials and money are key principles, and lack of these has caused great damage to resource management so far. For instance, Julian cited data showing that the African region loses over $85 billion a year in revenues because of the disappearance of money and materials within the system! Blockchain (or distributed ledger technologies) and supply chain certification are expected to make a significant contribution to addressing this issue.
Energy is our master resource. The huge quantities of CRMs currently required for renewable technologies, electronic equipment etc (amongst other things) means that supplies in the near future will be dominated by primary production.
Simon Michaux (GTK Finland) displayed fascinating data on the mining and materials shortfalls we are likely to face in meeting future energy demand. The industrial ecosystem, has changed rapidly over the last 2 decades, and it is now crucial for minerals industries to evolve along with it. For example, for every 1000 deposits discovered, only 1 or 2 become mines; and the time taken to develop discovered deposits to mines is 15-20 years.
Recycling could become a significant source of supply in the long-term future as more CRMs become available for recycling and if our ability to recycle improves. Ulrich Kral (Environment Agency, Austria) spoke of the management of CRMs in Austria. Action plans focussing on sharing, repairing, reuse and recycling are crucial, as are separate WEEE collection and recycling schemes and green finance mechanisms.
Sustainability goals depend on an integrated system that takes cognizance of the entire value chain, shifting away from a silos approach. Felix Bob Ocitti (Expert, African Union) spoke about opportunities for policymakers. Lack of data transparency and unregulated/informal nature of the resource sector is a significant hurdle and policies must address these.
All in all, it was a morning very well spent!
Recordings and slides from the workshop are available at: https://unece.org/info/Sustainable-Energy/UNFC-and-Resource-Management/events/369723