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Cornwall, UK, applies UN Resource Management System to support sustainability of Critical Raw Materials mining

Cornwall, UK, applies UN Resource Management System to support sustainability of Critical Raw Materials mining

Cornish mining landscape

In Cornwall, United Kingdom, a pioneering initiative is underway to optimize resource management for critical raw materials projects. Applying the United Nations Resource Management System (UNRMS) is helping to transform the region's approach to resource extraction, processing, and sustainability. This innovative system, developed at UNECE in alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement, aims to balance economic development, environmental sustainability, and social responsibility.  

Released today, this first-of-its-kind UNRMS case study, conducted with regional government, academic and other stakeholders, will inform intergovernmental discussions at the UNECE Resource Management Week 2024, to be held 22-26 April in Geneva.  

For thousands of years since tin and copper mines began operating in Cornwall, mining has played a huge role in the economy and identity of the region, whose mining landscapes became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2006. South-West England, especially Cornwall, has a range of metal, mineral and renewable energy resources that can support the transition to Net Zero and Paris Agreement targets. Critical raw materials, such as lithium for the production of electric vehicle batteries and other technologies required for the green transition, in addition to tin and tungsten, are of particular importance. 

With over 100 companies in the mining supply chain and related sectors, the study highlights the strategic importance of responsible resource management for Cornwall's economic resurgence, its environmental stewardship, and for climate action.  

As highlighted in the case study, stakeholder engagement and collaboration are at the core of UNRMS implementation in Cornwall, and should be further strengthened. Such an approach fosters dialogue, cooperation, and shared decision-making by involving regional government, businesses, communities and other key stakeholders in resource management, leading to more inclusive and sustainable outcomes. 

While the region’s extractive industries have historically been responsible for environmental damage including water pollution, the sector is seeking to develop more sustainable practices with the support of UNRMS. To this end, among the main recommendations of the study is to conduct a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), which can be supported by the UNECE Protocol on SEA (to which the UK is a signatory but not yet a Party). 

The case study – which is a preliminary assessment to support Cornwall's responsible resource management journey – highlights that the use of new and low-carbon approaches in resource exploration, extraction, and processing, such as for lithium extraction, is driving technological development and innovation in Cornwall, contributing to improved efficiency and sustainability of resource projects, job creation, and economic growth. The case study also suggests further exploring possibilities to reduce the environmental impact of mineral extraction, including through bioleaching and selective mining methods. It further notes the potential of developing untapped geothermal and other renewable energy resources. 

"The UNRMS framework provides valuable insights and recommendations for improving the collective sustainability of critical raw materials projects. This project demonstrates the potential of UNRMS as a tool for stakeholder engagement, circular economy thinking, collaboration, and monitoring resource management performance," noted Frances Wall, Professor of Applied Mineralogy at Camborne School of Mines, University of Exeter.  

To capitalise on circular economy opportunities, the case study highlights synergies between projects and opportunities for by-products and the use of mine waste, which could enable materials recycling and other circular economy interventions. 

"One of UNRMS's key strengths is its flexibility and adaptability, which allows it to be customized to match regional priorities and specific contexts. In Cornwall, this adaptability is crucial for tailoring resource management practices to the unique characteristics and needs of the region," added Eva Marquis, Met4Tech Research Fellow, Camborne School of Mines, University of Exeter. 

Applying UNRMS principles can also help Cornwall to protect and conserve its natural and cultural heritage, contributing to sustainable development in the tourism sector, which is a major driver of the region’s economy. 

"The application of UNRMS in Cornwall serves as a model for other regions, countries and industries looking to enhance their resource management practices in alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals. UNRMS's flexibility and adaptability, coupled with stakeholder engagement and innovation, offer a replicable framework for promoting economic development, environmental sustainability, and social responsibility in resource projects worldwide," underlined Dario Liguti, Director of Sustainable Energy at UNECE. 


UNRMS use in Cornwall 

What is the UNRMS 

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe

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Email: [email protected]

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