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A Climate Partnership Worth Encouraging

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As the United Kingdom prepares for the upcoming election, scheduled for July 4th, many pundits are expecting the Labour Party’s return to power after 14 years in the opposition - writes Guy Kioni.

Under Keir Starmer’s leadership, the Labour party has focused its platform primarily around a plan to revitalize the economy, reduce the cost of living, and frame the country as a global leader for sustainable and technological advances. As the UK aims to achieve net-zero by 2050, Labour, if elected, will have a unique opportunity to turn their attention, and government investment, towards clean technology. A stable and reliable supply chain of critical minerals is integral for supporting the manufacturing of clean tech in the UK and throughout Europe. The City of London as one of the world’s financial hubs, should also be encouraged to consider greater investment in ESG and critical minerals in emerging markets, with a focus on the circular economy.

Although in March 2023 a comprehensive critical mineral strategy, aptly titled Resilience for the Future, was launched by then Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy the Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng, evidently other ongoing pressing issues prevented it’s effective implementation. Key in this regard, is the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) which currently serves as a global supplier of exactly the critical minerals needed for the production of such clean tech. As of 2020, the DRC was supplying up to 69% of the world’s cobalt. Additionally, essential minerals such as coltan, cassiterite, gold, and wolframite, many of which are not household names but are nevertheless vital for clean energy tech, are produced by the DRC.

Unfortunately, sufficient attention was not paid to this integral role of the DRC, whose potential in the fields of security and international diplomacy were unfortunately, largely ignored. This was in light of the execution of the Safety of Rwanda Act. Passed into law in April 2024, under the act, UK asylum were to be transferred to Rwanda before their claims for asylum are heard, leading some Parliamentarians to prioritize this over the role which the DRC can and should play in securing British national energy interests.

Seeking to secure supply chains and turn the DRC into a global hub for critical minerals, the DRC government, under President Felix-Antoine Tshisekedi, has invested $3.5 million into Buenassa, the country’s first integrated metals processing and trading company, funding a copper and cobalt refinery (hydro-metallurgical plant), expected to be operational by the end of 2027. Located in Lualaba province, known for its significant production of copper, the Buenassa project will promote industrialization while establishing sustainable and circular green economic development.

The DRC has remained committed to the process of ‘climate-smart mining’, amplifying their role as a supplier of critical minerals on a global platform. The former DRC's Minister of Industry, Julien Paluku said regarding the centrality of critical minerals for the future of the country, and with regards to the Buenassa project in particular, “The President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Félix Antoine Tshisekedi, urges for the local beneficiation and value addition to critical minerals the country is well endowed with. This recommendation is a key pillar of his presidential program for the prosperity of the Congolese people, as well as of his national security strategy”.

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On the sideline of the 2023 UN General assembly, President Tshisekedi announced his support and attention for the Buenassa initiative, which he hopes will serve as a key pillar of the country’s national security, and provide much needed prosperity for citizens. Tshisekedi was reelected in December 2023 on a platform which seeks to deliver economic growth, increase security in the east and reset the country’s international relationships.

Support for the Buenassa project complements this agenda with the way in which it too, seeks to revitalize industry in the country. For example, in a revolutionary step, Buenassa’s plan to implement blockchain-based traceability solutions has the ability to positively impact market control, allowing countries to oversee and track metal prices and extend battery passport data feeds.

The project has secured financial and technical collaborations with international institutions like Delphos International, MET63, British headquartered Bara Consulting, and more, creating space for economic benefits for every country involved in the partnership.

Currently, the project supports an electric vehicle initiative involving the DRC, Zambia, and even the US, with an aim towards eventually transforming the electric vehicle industry. An investment by the incoming Labour government in the Buenassa refinery project would be mutually beneficial for the DRC, the UK, as well as Europe, and would broadcast a message that the new government encourages responsible industrialization, the restructuring of global supply chains, alongside fostering a green economic sector through the electric vehicle and battery industry. With definitive feasibility studies expected by the end of 2025, the vast potential from this project will soon be even more apparent.

Considering the Labour Party’s intent focus on regulating the cost of living in the UK, investment in the DRC would create new jobs within the clean tech sector, reduce the reliance on private cars, and even cut costs of utilities. Furthermore, by supporting the DRC and their production of critical minerals, the incoming government would display uniquely British leadership in global efforts encouraging renewable energy development, necessary for combating the broader issue of climate change.

This investment also serves as a vehicle for the party’s wide-ranging progressive agenda, further advancing a commitment to social justice and general sustainability. The geopolitical implications that arise from investment in the project have the ability to eventually diversify sources of critical minerals and reduce dependency on a limited number of suppliers currently dominated by China, securing the future of energy diversification and sustainability for the UK and all of Europe.

The country’s mineral-rich deposits are necessary for creating a reliable supply chain that can be incorporated into the global clean energy transition and the reduction of carbon emissions. Responsible mining practices in the DRC also encourage sustainable economic development and curtail poverty throughout the region, while fostering further diplomatic ties between the UK and the DRC. The current expectation is that minerals sourced from the DRC would support low-carbon mobility and minimize energy consumption, directly supporting the incoming government’s policy as they seek to mitigate utilities expenses for British citizens. With a key role in maintaining an integrated value chain around battery manufacturing, both the DRC and the UK would uphold their promise of delivering responsible environmental technology.

Lastly, the governments of the DRC and Zambia are set to create a Research Center of Excellence for electric vehicle battery skills development in support of special economic zones. This offers another opportunity for soft power deployment for the incoming government with the help of academics, as well as UK research institutions through putting in place knowledge and research program, including vocational program for the vibrant and dynamic youth of the DRC.

All of these ongoing developments would also be very much in line with the concept of “Securonomics”, developed by Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer Rachel Reeves, which focuses on putting economic security and the resilience of industry first. In the case at hand, the DRC can ensure both the economic security and the resilience of industry of the UK, by transitioning from an aid-based model to one focused on trade and mutual benefit. The Buenassa project in particular aligns with the DRC’s long term industrialization plan, a model that showcases the importance of public-private sector coalitions. A partnership between the DRC and the UK in this sector has the ability to serve as an example for other countries on the importance of global collaboration in addressing climate challenges whilst empowering local beneficiation.

Guy Kioni is the CEO of Missang, a boutique Geostrategy and Management Consultancy firm that specialises in Critical Mineral, Diplomacy, Emerging Technology, Education, and Healthcare.

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