Creating a Healthy Planet Through Infrastructure & Critical Mineral Development

Creating a Shared Future Series
Written by 
Coeuraj Insight
February 2023

To create a shared future that can serve us all, we need a healthy planet that is not at odds with human innovation but can sustain it.

In the wake of what feels like crisis after crisis, a hard reality has hit: the climate emergency is here. Record-breaking heat waves are gripping nations. Seismic storms are wiping out coastlines, and flooding is becoming commonplace no matter the continent.

Research indicates that climate change is getting worse, with 2023 forecasted to be one of the hottest years on record, following an 8-year trend of record-breaking temperatures. A recent study showed that at least 85 percent of the world’s population has experienced “human-induced climate change” impacts, and nations are still lagging behind critical emissions targets laid out in the Paris Agreement.

But there’s a silver lining to what feels like inevitable disaster. The world has a track record of uniting during times of urgent change and required climate action, from the Montreal Accord in the late 80s to the recent adoption of the Global Biodiversity Framework that’s emerged from COP15. And increased activity isn’t only happening by way of multilateralism. There’s been a notable global increase in the diversity of actors—community members, public groups, and private companies—getting involved to curb climate change through new policies and initiatives.

And so today, two realities exist together: one of a growing urgency in the face of planetary decline and another of hope that things will change with the tide of accelerating human action.

Stemming from a place of both urgency and hope, here we explore two areas core ­to the development of a healthy planet where the capacity for change—and systems transformation—is visible today.

Where we live, work, and play: the infrastructure of tomorrow

Humans experience their lives within the boundaries of their built and natural environments. Who we are and what we are able to accomplish is tied to our sense of space and place.

The threat of climate change has brought infrastructure to the forefront of policymakers’ and urban planners’ minds. If climate change is left unchallenged, the World Bank estimates that by 2050, 216 million people may be forced to internally migrate as whole cities and regions are made uninhabitable, with disproportionate impacts on the Global South.

In recent decades, planners have advanced the concept of “green” or “blue-green” infrastructure that leverages natural systems, like forests and waterways, to develop urban and rural infrastructure that is resilient, and feeds into the success of a community’s health outcomes and social and economic vibrancy. Nature-based solutions, like blue-green infrastructure, can dramatically reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, and “provide 30 to 40 percent of the C02 mitigation required by 2030.”

Building with or for nature, and not in opposition to it, is not a new concept. Examples of nature-informed infrastructure and planning have been taking place for centuries. Traditional Indigenous knowledge systems have long held the importance of sustainable ecosystem management and land-based decision-making.

And blue-green infrastructure is only one example of how infrastructure systems can be transformed. Many smaller-scale opportunities, typically undertaken at the municipal level, provide investment and avenues to upgrade outdated “grey” infrastructure so they can contribute to net-zero energy consumption in the future and improve the wellbeing of the community members who access them today.

Increasingly, within infrastructure projects, the key to successful outcomes continues to be whether diverse stakeholders can work together.

Unravelling the paradox to the green transition: Indigenous lands and mining to 2050

From globalization to widespread technological advancement, the 21st century has been defined by unparalleled technological innovation and hyper-connectivity.

But, now in today’s age of “more” there is a rallying cry to emit “less.” The movement to a “green transition” strives to detangle growth and innovation from the exploitative folly of fossil fuels that drive climate change.

However, the path towards a green and clean transition is filled with paradoxes. Clean technology that harnesses sustainable energy—think solar panels, EV batteries, and wind turbines—requires the output of extractive industries. For example, copper, one of the key critical minerals, requires increased production in the millions of tonnes to sustain the technology required to move away from fossil fuels by 2050. But to scale copper production requires more mining, and mining, inherently, emits greenhouse gases. At least, for right now.

This challenge—this paradox—is being tackled head-on by Dan Myerson, executive chair of Foran Mining. Myerson’s company aims to create the world’s first carbon-neutral copper mine at McIlvenna Bay in Saskatchewan, Canada.

Over the next decades, critical minerals will become dire for the advancement of technologies necessary for climate adaptation. This makes the mining industry a key sector in global climate mitigation strategies. But technology, also, plays a role in mining itself.

With mining operations contribution two to three per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, insights point to the most diesel intense part of production: hauling. Now, mining companies seek collaboration across sectors to achieve the technological advancements required to both meet the new scale of production and lowered GHG emissions.

Part of that innovation can come from meaningful collaboration and partnership with regulators, government, private sector, local community—and notably, Indigenous peoples. Traditional knowledge, environmental stewardship, and economic participation can be important tools to increase sustainable practices on the lands where mining activity takes place.

This will be an increasingly important partnership in the coming decades. Critical minerals in Canada are found predominantly near or on Indigenous lands. The path to 2050 is also a path to economic partnership and participation with Indigenous nations and rights-holders. The importance of relationships with Indigenous peoples is increasingly indivisible from mining companies’ ability to refashion their operations to be more sustainable, and the world’s ability to reach critical climate targets.

How do we make a healthy planet a reality? Consider the following:

It’s the year 2051. The targets in the Paris Agreement have been achieved through a herculean systems effort, and a healthy planet has been realized.

Nature-based solutions are integrated into upcoming infrastructure developments. Land-based decision making is part and parcel of planning from the outset, and North America is home to some of the world’s most green and clean infrastructure and technology.

Mining has transformed from being an extractive practice to a regenerative one. The mining industry and federal governments have become leaders in the green transition and have forged meaningful partnerships with Indigenous communities that contribute to shared success and collective wellbeing.

—A future scenario from a healthy planet

Creating a healthy planet requires deep commitment and shifts in not only top-level policies and practices, but in deeply engrained cultures and behaviours. And, for infrastructure and critical mineral development, this is what their transformation requires.

Creating a healthy planet requires collaborative problem solving at every scale

At Coeuraj, we use strategic foresight to help people surface opportunities and ideas to start tackling complex problems of this scale.

Using scenarios of what a possible future, like the one above, provides a helpful frame to understand the strategic priorities and actions people can do in the present to reach this outcome.

To end, here is a set of further questions to consider:

  • How can siloed practices be turned to shared problem solving? How can cross-industry and -group collaboration take form under present conditions?
  • What are the diverse actors that exist in each system? Where do they come together and where do they come apart—and why?
  • What approaches are no longer fit-for-task, and how can we productively guide ourselves away from them?*
  • What systems are disruptive and how can the disruption be harnessed as a positive force for transformation?*
  • What new systems, technologies, and ideas are emerging and how we can help grow them to get to the next step?*
  • What other key areas of change are unfolding and what can we learn from them?

Coeuraj facilitates collaboration at scale so people with different perspectives can come together to find human-centered solutions to today’s complex problems

Working to move a healthy planet forward and looking to take the next step? We want to hear from you.

*Taken from the Three Horizons Model

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