On 12-13th August, SRK Exploration organised the workshop “Addressing Environmental and Social Challenges of Mineral Exploration in Europe” in their Cardiff office. The workshop was facilitated by members of the SRK Consulting UK team.

Participants came from GTK, KU Leuven, University of British Columbia, PERC (Pan-European Resources Code), ICRAG (Irish Centre for Research in Applied Geoscience), Sazani Consulting, several experts in Environmental and Social aspects of mining from SRK offices worldwide, and INFACT partners from Spain, Germany and Finland.

THE CONTEXT: In order to have more socially & environmentally exploration and mining responsible practices in Europe, the sector needs to set up high-standards while remaining economically attractive. A fundamental thing to understand is that Exploration companies have an appetite for risk: 1 in 1,000 exploration projects ever becomes a mine. The main goal of exploration companies is to increase the value of their project for the final transaction with a major. The shift is expected in the fact that they should seek not only an increased financial value but also a higher societal value. Major companies have a trend to acquire projects that are de-risked from a social perspective.

Even if we try to keep the focus of INFACT on exploration, it is strongly linked to the mining activity as most of the reluctance towards mineral exploration comes from mines’ past and current failures. There is thus a need for a narrative around mining – the fact that it should focus first on CRM (Critical Raw Materials) – for the EU citizen to put a real value o it and be ready to accept environmental and financial costs of an EU mining industry.

Therefore, it is a top priority to promote a mineral exploration industry that is aware of the complex social and environmental contexts that it operates in within Europe. Exploration is currently met with several barriers in Europe, including; existing land use, cost, negative public opinion, environmental sustainability and governance structures. It was the aim of this workshop to attempt to address these and agree upon a collective vision for future practice in the industry.

THE OUTCOMES: Participants worked in teams on concepts like derisking explorations projects from a social perspective, impulse a cultural change by increasing inter-disciplinary teams (geologists, geophysicists, anthropologists, social scientists, PR, CSR), formalise social performances of exploration projects, explore financial instruments to support this change, explore a roadmap for EU homogenised guidelines and permitting process around mining etc…

The workshop was split into two days. The first day centred on identifying the current barriers to exploration within Europe, in which a roundtable discussion was used to unearth differing opinions provided by the attendees. Several interesting points were raised – many of which had not yet been considered during the project. The points included:

  • The need to change what is mined, from precious metals to CRMs
  • The need to change the current business model of exploration companies
  • Could there be a transition to a state-owned mining?
  • ‘Social License to Operate’ is hard to define as a term, but important as a concept
  • There are several unique land use issues in Europe e.g. Natura 2000

The second day focused on coming up with solutions for the barriers raised in day one. Following on from the important issues highlighted in the roundtable discussion, the workshop attendees were tasked with attempting to come up with long-term goals for mineral exploration in Europe. This session saw the attendees split into small groups, asking themselves a set of distinct questions:

  1. What needs to change?
  • What next?
  • What next?
  • What assumptions are you making?
  1. How will you know your change has happened?
  • What will be different?
  • What will be different?
  • What will be different?
  1. Who should be targeted?
  • Who should be involved?
  • What assumptions are you making?
  1. What are your key entry points?
  • What assumptions are you making?

This process spanned the remainder of the workshop and sparked several interesting discussions, both in the small teams and collectively. The outcome was several distinct plans to influence long-term change in the sector. The answers generated from the different tasks came together to form a visual change pathway in the ‘Theory of Change’ development tool style.

The two-day workshop was a fascinating experience that highlighted unique insights. It received positive extremely positive feedback from all participants, many of which now have a newfound interest in the INFACT project. The outcomes will be included in an INFACT deliverable and serve as a base for a publication, or … who knows a Manifesto for a State-Owned EU Mining company!

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