By Allison Lampert
MONTREAL (Reuters) – The United States and other western countries on Monday announced an alliance to produce and buy critical minerals from countries with stronger environmental and labor standards, a move that could reduce business with market leader China.
Announced at the COP15 talks on biodiversity in Montreal, the Sustainable Critical Minerals Alliance would support these standards for elements like lithium, cobalt and nickel, Canada’s Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said.
“Unless China and Russia are willing to put in place … measures required to be able to legitimately say that they are supporting these kinds of standards then it would essentially mean … we will be buying alternatives as we can,” Wilkinson said in an interview.
Wilkinson acknowledged that the voluntary alliance of the United States, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom would not shun China which dominates the market for the minerals used in EV batteries.
“Obviously right now there are some critical minerals that are processed in large measure in China so this will be something that will need to happen over time,” he said.
Western countries have been trying to wean themselves from dependence on authoritarian regimes for strategically important materials. Canada last week unveiled a strategy to ramp up production and processing of critical minerals. In June, the United States and allies set up a partnership aimed at securing supplies.
China said it has taken steps to curb pollution in its mining sector, but has faced criticism.
Mining, along with other sectors are under scrutiny at the Montreal talks due to their impact on nature.
“China is actually free to up its game with respect to environmental standards and with respect to labor standards and eventually join the alliance,” Wilkinson said. “But it would have to make those kinds of changes.”
A strategist from environmental group Greenpeace welcomed the alliance’s support for higher environmental, indigenous rights and labor standards but questioned how it would be enforced.
“Will there be teeth to that? For the moment it’s more like a memorandum,” said Keith Stewart, senior energy strategist, Greenpeace Canada.
(Reporting By Allison Lampert in Montreal; Editing by David Gregorio)