The UN widely promotes the Sustainable Development Goals, 17 common goals to a sustainable future for our planet and its citizens. By 2030 Europe aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% (compared with 1990). The accelerating exploitation of our ecosystems has been highlighted annually by Earth Overshoot Days. The urgent need to combat climate change requires that we significantly increase use of clean energies and energy storage and decrease our non-energy emissions (e.g. through electric vehicles, better building materials). But the infrastructure needed for the transition to a low-carbon society will require the production and consumption of vast amounts of mineral products, not only the much publicised critical metals but also more common mineral products like copper, iron and sand.
The circular economy has been lauded as a solution to the increased demand on resources and related climate impacts. Reducing waste and improving efficiencies are essential. However, given (i) increasing populations and improving living standards globally, (ii) the decades-long duration that many raw materials are in use, (iii) the difficulties and/or environmental impact of recovering and recycling some materials, and (iv) the strain on our energy, land and water resources, it is time to define the role of the geoscience community in managing Earth resources and achieving a more sustainable future.
We will also need to provide our expertise to the wider public conversations about our natural resources: Is it reasonable the public think the circular economy can be applied to all items we consume? Where will substitutions come from? And will they in turn impact on our environment? One of our responsibilities must be to communicate effectively with politicians, industry and the general public to strengthen the science message.
We must also identify priorities. If we are to move to PV and wind energy and reduce emissions through electric vehicles, what impact will this have on demand for natural resources? Would the public support mining to achieve a ‘carbon neutral’ future? This is complicated by Europe’s dependence on imported metals, possibly from countries with ethical, human rights and environmental breaches. Would Europeans apply locavore logic to minerals and condone the opening of new local mines?
This Great Debate will generate open discussion about our natural resources and our role as Earth Scientists in achieving a more sustainable future.
- Dr Karen Hanghøj, Director of British Geological Survey
- Prof. Saleem Ali, University of Delaware
- Andy Whitmore, Co-chair, London Mining Network
- Dr Patrick Redmond, Kobold Metals
Dr Aoife Braiden, Geological Survey Ireland
The session will comprise a short introduction to the topic by the chair, followed by a brief summary of key points from each speaker and a wider discussion about some of the key issues raised. Attendees can submit questions online which will be put to the panel towards the end of the session.