Canadian critical minerals will be ‘key’ amid pivot away from China, Russia: minister

Click to play video: 'Canada can contribute global minerals, metals, energy in place of Russia, China: Freeland'
Canada can contribute global minerals, metals, energy in place of Russia, China: Freeland
WATCH: Canada can contribute global minerals, metals, energy in place of Russia, China, Freeland says – Jun 20, 2022

Canada’s critical minerals will be “key” for the world to meet its climate change goals as nations look to distance themselves from Russia and China, according to the country’s environment and climate change minister.

The two nations, which are major sources of critical minerals like lithium, graphite and nickel, have shown themselves to be unreliable in recent months, and countries are looking for a stable partners, Steven Guilbeault said in an interview with Global News Friday.

Guilbeault said Canada has “all the ingredients” in place to become a long-term partner for nations seeking clean and renewable energy.

“We are in the process of transforming Canada’s auto sector (and) we’re in the process of developing a critical minerals strategy, which is key to the world to meet our climate change goals and Canada is blessed with having almost all that is required to do this transformation,” he said.

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“More and more countries like the United States, Europe, Japan, South Korea are looking (for this). Right now, the two major sources of critical minerals around the world are China and Russia, and there is a desire by all these countries that I’ve mentioned to deal with reliable partners from a human rights point of view, from a stability point of view, and many of those countries see Canada as one of those countries.”

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Following Russia’s invasion in Ukraine on Feb. 24, Europe is facing an oil and gas crisis as it tries to distance itself from its heavy reliance on Russian fossil fuels. Moscow, meanwhile, has been accused by the West of carrying out an energy war by threatening to cut off Europe from its supply. It has reduced supplies to Europe via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline in recent months, but has cited maintenance issues as the reason why.

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Furthermore, Reuters, the BBC and other news outlets reported Friday that Russia is wasting large volumes of natural gas by burning it into the atmosphere near the Finnish border amid the energy crisis.

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“It’s just another example of how (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine is creating all sorts of problems for, obviously the people of Ukraine who are dramatically impacted by this, but Europe as a whole and even in Russia. It’s creating all sorts of problems which might include this one” Guilbeault said.

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In Asia, tensions are high between Taiwan and China, with the island nation fearing for a potential conflict with Beijing, which claims it as its territory under its “one-China principle.”

China has staged numerous military drills near the nation in August, and has expressed frustration over western diplomats who’ve visited Taiwan this summer.

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The recent visit by German Chanellor Olaf Scholz to Canada is an example of how nations are seeking Canada’s help in energy security, Guilbeault said.

As of late, Germany has looked to Canada to prop up energy supplies in the country, particularly liquefied natural gas. Berlin also signed a hydrogen pact with Ottawa this week to plan for hydrogen shipments starting in 2025.

“There are obviously short-term issues, but there are mid-to-long term issues that these countries are already starting to look for, and that’s exactly why the chancellor came to Canada this week,” Guilbeault said.

Earlier this summer, Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson told The Canadian Press the strategic mistake made in allowing Russia to have global dominance in oil and gas cannot be repeated as the world looks to massively ramp up production of critical minerals for a greener future.

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Alberta energy industry undergoing green transition

Resilience can only come if western countries don’t allow a geographic concentration of mineral production in countries that can’t be trusted, he said.

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Today, China is the biggest global player in critical minerals. It is the world’s largest producer of half of the 31 minerals and metals Canada has listed as critical to its economy. Russia is among the three biggest sources of palladium, scandium and titanium, and produces one-tenth of the world’s nickel and six per cent of its aluminum.

Canada’s draft critical minerals strategy, which is being worked on by Wilkinson’s department, focuses on six minerals and metals Ottawa has decided have the greatest potential for economic growth and employment opportunities: lithium, graphite, nickel, cobalt, copper and rare-earth elements.

Right now, Canada doesn’t produce any lithium or rare earth elements but has reserves of both. According to the United States Geological Survey, last year Canada produced one per cent of the world supply of graphite, five per cent of nickel, 2.5 per cent of cobalt and 2.8 per cent of copper.

“Where we are going to have an absolute requirement for these minerals, being dependent on countries that do not always share our perspectives on global affairs, and that have shown the ability at times to use their control of some of these resources as a weapon, is not a very good strategy,” Wilkinson said on June 16.

“In the current context, China and Russia are the No. 1 and No. 2 producers and processors of many of these minerals. And so I think there is an understanding in the democratic world that we do need to ensure that there are secure and stable sources of supply.”

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— with files from The Canadian Press and Reuters

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