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28 November 2023

On one hand, aluminium is a material that is helping many sectors decarbonise their products and will continue to be in demand in the future as an important metal in a circular economy. On the other hand, the aluminium industry needs to reduce its carbon footprint across the supply chain, from bauxite mining, alumina refining, aluminium smelting, through to downstream manufacturing. Addressing the industry’s contribution to climate change via sector decarbonisation strategies must consider their potential impacts of these on Indigenous peoples and local communities.

Indigenous communities and local communities are not only often disproportionately affected by extractive industries like mining, they also frequently lack an equal seat at the table in decisions about climate impact mitigation initiatives.

The principles of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) found in criterion 9.4 of the ASI Performance Standard provide a framework for ensuring Indigenous peoples and local communities can meaningfully participate in determining their own future in the face of bauxite mining  and climate change mitigation measures. FPIC emphasises the right to give or withhold consent to projects affecting their lands and resources. FPIC includes all relevant information and includes sharing climate impact forecasts, which mining companies should develop in consultation with Indigenous peoples with respect to developing new/existing bauxite mining operations. This includes projections of how the mine will contribute to climate change through land use changes, land clearing, GHG emissions, waste generation, impacts on local hydrology over time, mitigation measures, mine rehabilitation and mine closure planning.

Looking further down the aluminium supply chain, decarbonisation of smelting and manufacturing processes is crucial. Transitioning to renewable electricity sources like solar, wind, and hydro power for energy-intensive smelting has become a priority. However, renewable projects must also adhere to FPIC principles when built on or near Indigenous lands. Their construction and operation can still disrupt Indigenous peoples and local communities’ cultural practices, customary rights and related land management obligations, if done without consent. This point is well illustrated by a recent case in Norway between Indigenous Sami groups and the construction of wind turbines regarding the impacts on reindeer pastures.

Ultimately, addressing climate change in the aluminium industry requires holistic collaboration with Indigenous peoples and local communities, guided by the principles of FPIC. Their traditional ecological knowledge of their lands holds important insights that may be overlooked by external stakeholders. Any climate mitigation initiatives must respect Indigenous rights and include Indigenous peoples and local communities as equal partners. Only then can the aluminium industry implement decarbonisation strategies across the supply chain, particularly in bauxite mining regions, that work for both people and the planet.


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