Home Civil Society Voices Prohibit mining in environmentally sensitive areas

Prohibit mining in environmentally sensitive areas

Rare earth mining

Follow us on our Malay and English WhatsApp, Telegram, Instagram, Tiktok and Youtube channels.

Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) calls on the federal and state governments to prohibit mining, including of “rare earth” elements, in environmentally sensitive areas, such as permanent forest reserves.

This is in response to the government’s new policy to ban the export of rare earth elements to safeguard the resources’ value chain to build midstream and downstream industries.

It is good there is an export ban, which would have otherwise increased further pressures on our environmentally sensitive areas due to the rising global demand for such critical minerals, required for climate-related technologies.

While we understand the logic of banning such exports in the domestic interest, we do not support rare earth elements mining even for our national purpose, especially when much of these resources are located in environmentally sensitive areas, including in permanent forest reserves and biodiverse ecosystems.

There is certainly a need for the government to make fully transparent where the rare earth elements resources are located and to impose a ban on mining activities in environmentally sensitive areas. It is not enough to talk about mining sustainably or responsibly, as environmentally sensitive areas by definition must be protected at all costs.

Allowing rare earth elements mining in these environmentally sensitive areas will not only cause grave environmental and social impacts, they will also be contrary to our existing climate and biodiversity policies. Rare earth elements mining in forest reserves contradicts the National Forestry Act 1984 and the objectives of the national policy on biological diversity.

Both conventional open-cast mining and in-situ leaching mining present serious environmental and social health impacts, especially if they are located in environmentally sensitive areas or involve the native customary rights of indigenous peoples.

READ MORE:  Religious leaders must inspire contemplation of the environment

In-situ leaching still requires a clearing of one-third of the vegetation and poses a more serious risk to groundwater pollution compared to open-cast mining.

The use of ammonium sulphate as a leaching solution can cause sulphate pollution, which persists long after mining ceases, through exacerbated nutrient pollution of downstream rivers and reservoirs, along with increasing microbial production of hydrogen sulphide, an extremely toxic substance to many aquatic organisms and plants.

The term “non-radioactive rare earth elements” used in Malaysia could be misleading because, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency, producing one tonne of rare earth elements results in 2,000 tonnes of toxic waste, including 75 cubic meters of wastewater and one tonne of radioactive waste.

Further, while it is true that there are no direct substitutes for rare earth elements, there are ways to produce rare earth-free super magnets or innovation that can replace the permanent magnet motors and generators which do not require rare earth minerals – and the world is beginning to shift to alternatives.

The use of non-rare earth electric motors is expected to increase eightfold by 2030, and viable alternatives do exist to replace the permanent magnets that are widely used in wind turbine and electric vehicle designs. Some major manufacturers are already investing in this.

Malaysia too should be investing in alternatives to rare earth elements usage and leapfrog, instead of promoting rare earth elements, since substitutes are the way forward.

As Malaysia transitions to clean energy, the question remains how clean and just the energy transition is and will be.

READ MORE:  Five demands in Jeremy Corbyn's alternative agenda for Europe

If the energy transition ends up destroying our forest ecosystems and water resources vital for balancing the earth’s climate and further harming vulnerable communities already on the frontline of climate impacts, it would run contrary to climate goals as well as other sustainable development goals.

Meenakshi Raman is president of Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM)

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
  1. Tegakkan maruah serta kualiti kehidupan rakyat
  2. Galakkan pembangunan saksama, lestari serta tangani krisis alam sekitar
  3. Raikan kerencaman dan keterangkuman
  4. Selamatkan demokrasi dan angkatkan keluhuran undang-undang
  5. Lawan rasuah dan kronisme
Support our work by making a donation. Tap to download the QR code below and scan this QR code from Gallery by using TnG e-wallet or most banking apps:
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Most Read

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x