With great natural resources, Serbia has the potential to grow a strong and sustainable mining industry. Sweden and the EU remain open to collaboration with Serbia in ensuring that, together, we enable better prerequisites for good new mining projects.
Swedish technological knowhow and a firm policy in addressing global climate emissions can serve as a valuable example to Serbia in developing a sustainable mining industry, says H.E. Jan Lundin, Swedish Ambassador to Serbia. Given that Sweden is the EU’s leading nation for mining and minerals, we spoke with Ambassador Lundin about the pros and cons of having a developed mining industry.
Confirming that Sweden is indeed Europe’s leading mining nation, accounting for 91% of iron production throughout the continent, ambassador Lundin adds: “we are also one of the largest suppliers of lead, zinc, copper, silver and gold within our continent. Therefore, with regard to pros, I can say that the mining and mineral industry has been of great importance to Sweden’s prosperity for almost a thousand years”.
This industry has been contributing around three per cent to Sweden’s GDP annually over the last several years, which translates to billions of euros annually. The industry also provides over 15,000 jobs in the country, while the goal is to triple mining production in the second half of this decade, creating close to 50,000 new jobs in the process. Other benefits include a high level of technological and innovative progress, resulting in efficient, sustainable and environmentally friendly mining processes. “Speaking of the cons, growing global demand for metals and minerals has led to a serious ecological imbalance over time. However, global air and water emissions have been dropping gradually, and the Swedish mining industry is well-positioned internationally, with its climate-smart production, to lead on addressing these issues,” says our interlocutor.
According to the Swedish Minerals Strategy, the mining and minerals industry has to be in harmony with the environment and cultural values. What does that mean in practical terms?
It’s important to control all phases in the life cycle of a mine, from exploration stages to the eventually closure and rehabilitation of a mine, in order to minimise the environmental impact of the mine. Investigations of potential exploration areas, documenting environmental effects, creating action plans, keeping an eye on ground movements and showing the effects of previous actions are all of great importance for sustainable mining. The potential impact must be documented in accordance with Swedish environmental laws and it is up to us to do so in the smartest and most resource-efficient way. For Sweden, mining must occur with great respect for nature and human life, ensuring, for instance, that both reindeer grazing and mining can go on in harmony.
How close is Sweden to its goal of developing an innovative mining and minerals industry with a strong knowledge base?
The overwhelming success of the Swedish mining industry can be primarily attributed to the fact that we have been able to combine a specialised academic base with an industry that’s driven by innovation. By establishing close cooperation and partnerships between the academic knowledge base and the industry, Swedish mining became a testing ground for the development of innovative and environmentally friendly products and processes that may be adaptable by other countries, such as Serbia. For example, this strong link between innovative industry and academic knowledge led to Sweden being a leader in the manufacturing of mining equipment, accounting for nearly 60% of all underground equipment.
The development of the innovative and environmentally friendly products and processes that Swedish mining is renowned for may be adapted by other countries, such as Serbia
How are Sweden and Swedish enterprises contributing to developing a sustainable mining industry in developing countries?
Over the years, Sweden has managed to develop environmental and worker safety legislation that guarantees the use of energy-efficient methods in delivering finished products to the customer, while greatly reducing the overall environmental impact. We believe that a sustainable mining industry creates positive conditions for future growth. By having world-class facilities and expertise for processes like recycling and the handling of mining waste, the goal is to continue contributing to the reduction of global emissions by supplying the world market with both climate-smart metals and environmentally smart technology.
What does this mean in the case of Serbia?
Serbia is also a country with great natural resources potential and a growing mining industry. Swedish technological knowhow and a firm policy in addressing global climate emissions can serve as a valuable example to Serbia in developing its mining industry sustainably. We are all aware that about two-thirds of Serbia’s energy needs currently come from opencast lignite coal mines that power thermal power plants, and Sweden is ready to help Serbia make the switch to the use of fossil-free energy sources in the future.
You were among the organisers of a large conference in Serbia devoted to the development of mining in the country. How has the mining sector evolved over the last two years, and which are the most important issues in terms of closer cooperation between the EU and Serbia in that respect?
Actually four years in a row, from 2016 to 2019, we hosted a conference in Belgrade at which participants from the mining industry across Serbia, Sweden and the EU gathered to discuss important topics, such as creating a sustainable mining industry through partnerships and how Serbia’s mining can contribute to a successful Europe. Although the COVID-19 crisis has had an impact on the mining industry around the world, especially in areas like the financing of exploration activities and delays in supply chains, new methods continue to emerge, creating more efficient mining operations that respect human, environmental and local cultures. Sweden and the EU remain open to collaboration with Serbia in ensuring that we can together enable better prerequisites for good new mining projects.
Lithium is seen as an important element in the development of the European automotive industry. What will Serbia get from that? Is it realistic to expect that Li-ion batteries for hybrid and electric vehicles could be manufactured in Serbia?
So-called innovation critical metals and minerals like lithium are needed for the advancement of the use of renewable energy sources, such as energy storage batteries, where lithium is seen as a key component. The European Commission has said that the lack of production of these metals and minerals may hinder the development of green technologies, which could be one of the reasons why a Swedish company, Northvolt, is currently building a four-billion-euro factory that will produce Li-ion batteries for electric cars and energy storage in the north of Sweden.
This and other future battery factories will need to source lithium from places where it’s mined, therefore hopefully Serbian officials and a Serbian company looking to develop a lithium mine are closely evaluating the potential for such a mine in the west of Serbia, as well as evaluating future global demand for Li-ion batteries.
We believe that a sustainable mining industry creates positive conditions for future growth.
For Sweden, mining must occur with great respect for nature and human life, ensuring, for instance, that both reindeer grazing and mining can go on in harmony.
Sweden is ready to help Serbia make the switch to the use of fossil-free energy sources in the future.