The mining sector is relevant for the economic development and well-being of countries and regions. Raw materials are essential for the production of goods and services and the development of new technologies. They can also play an important role in the global transition towards a zero-carbon economy. The subnational dimension is critical to delivering better policies for economies specialised in mining activities. Unlike other industries, mining is geographically concentrated in those areas where the deposits lie, creating particular interactions with local communities and the environment. Mining specialisation generates a number of opportunities, including greater investments, technological innovation and higher-wage jobs. Yet, it also brings challenges, including vulnerability to external shocks, and environmental and social impacts. These positive and negative impacts are amplified at regional and local scales.

Sweden’s northern region, Upper Norrland, is one of the most important mining regions in Europe and has the potential to become a global leader in environmentally sustainable mining. With the largest land surface and the lowest population density in Sweden, Upper Norrland contains two sub-regions, Västerbotten and Norrbotten. Both sub-regions host the largest mineral reserves in the country, containing 9 of the country’s 12 active mines and providing 90% of the iron ore in the European Union (EU). Amongst the two, Västerbotten is more densely populated and has a more diversified economy, while Norrbotten is larger in terms of land surface and more specialised in mining, concentrating most of the active mines and production volumes in Sweden.

Upper Norrland has the potential to become a global leader in environmentally sustainable mining due to its competitive advantages. These include a pool of large mining companies working closely with research centres and universities to reduce the emission footprint and waste production across the mining value chain, together with a highly skilled labour force to drive innovation. The region also has a stable supply of green energy from hydropower and high-quality broadband coverage. Fully unlocking this potential will contribute to global climate agendas and the EU’s self-sufficiency strategy of raw materials.

Yet, the region must overcome a number of bottlenecks to support a sustainable future. They include a shrinking workforce, low interaction of municipalities and small businesses with the mining innovation process, lack of preparation of the workforce for future technological changes, as well as increasing opposition to mining due to socio-environmental concerns and land use conflicts.

This study identifies how Västerbotten and Norrbotten can build on their competitive advantages and address current and future challenges to support a resilient future through sustainable mining. To this end, Sweden’s national government needs to update the national mining strategy, define mechanisms to help the region capture greater value from mining ventures and improve the efficiency, predictability and transparency of the regulatory framework for mining. Both sub-regions need to enhance their innovation ecosystem, the local business environment, and internal and external co-operation.

This study is part of the OECD Mining Regions and Cities Initiative, which supports countries in implementing better regional development policies in a mining and extractive context.

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