Executive summary

Upper Norrland is a key mining region, both at the national and European levels, and has a number of competitive advantages to become a global leader in environmentally sustainable mining. It is Sweden’s most northern region, concentrating 9 out of 12 active mines and providing 90% of the iron ore produced in Europe. Upper Norrland includes two sub-regions at Territorial Level 3 (TL3), Västerbotten and Norrbotten. The former is more densely populated (4.8 inhabitants per km² against 2.6 in Norrbotten) and has a more diversified economy, while Norrbotten is larger (covering 64% of Upper Norrland) and more specialised in mining. The study confirms a number of competitive advantages in Upper Norrland. They include a strong innovation ecosystem with companies at the frontier of environmentally sustainable mining, working closely with research centres and universities, a highly skilled labour force (36% with tertiary education), reliable and green energy infrastructure and high broadband coverage (99% of households connected to broadband).

Upper Norrland can play a key role in the EU’s self-sufficiency strategy of raw materials and global environmental agendas while raising national and regional well-being. The region’s bedrock has a high potential of rare minerals, which are needed for the clean energy transition, and concentrates the largest, non-exploited mineral reserves in the country. Upper Norrland’s mining ecosystem is well placed to meet increasing global demand for high environmental standards in mining operations, as well as for unlocking new opportunities for regional economic development and attractiveness. To this end, Sweden’s policy framework goes in the right direction, by promoting innovation in the mining sector as a vehicle to boost economic growth and accelerate the transition towards a zero-carbon economy.

However, the region must also overcome various bottlenecks to enhance well-being and attain sustainable regional development linked to mining. The region struggles with a shrinking workforce driven by youth outmigration (especially women) and low retention of migrants, a low interaction of municipalities and small businesses with the innovation process of large firms and universities, and low entrepreneurship culture. Furthermore, regional development objectives are not sufficiently linked to land use planning and there is a need to improve training programmes to prepare the workforce for future technological changes and better include young people, especially women, in value-added activities (i.e. in mining and the service sector).

At the national level, the policy framework lacks a strong regional lens and a coherent vision of how mining development can create regional well-being. Sweden’s mineral strategy expires in 2020 and could benefit from greater clarity on the instruments that can mobilise the potential of the local mining ecosystem and implement value creation mechanisms for local communities. Furthermore, the study finds that Sweden’s regulatory framework for mining permits is complex and would benefit from reducing delays, as well as uncertainty on the scope of permit applications. The regulatory framework can also better integrate socio-economic and cultural aspects as well as combined impacts of past, present and future activities of mining into decision-making. Finally, the dialogue and consultation processes for mining development, especially in relation to the Sami people, can further improve trust in the system.

I. Strengthen and update Sweden’s policy framework to become a lead country in sustainable mining practices and technologies. For this, the national government should:

  • Define a long-term vision to clarify the role of mining for regional development and support environmentally sustainable mining within Sweden’s national policy framework.

  • Update Sweden’s Mineral Strategy to incorporate local strategies around mining.

  • Identify mechanisms to help mining regions capture greater value from ongoing and planned mining ventures.

  • Strengthen the brand name of Sweden’s mining ecosystem to consolidate it internationally as a “sustainable mining” trademark.

II. Enhance the innovation ecosystem in Upper Norrland to become a global leader in environmentally sustainable mining. For this, the regional councils of Västerbotten and Norrbotten should:

  • Strengthen the integration of municipal governments in the innovation process of universities and mining.

  • Enhance the entrepreneurship culture and innovation capacity of mining suppliers and small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

  • Reinforce the implementation of the smart specialisation strategies by developing an institutionalised platform for dialogue.

III. Foment internal and external co-operation to consolidate Upper Norrland’s vision of development and support global environmental agendas. For this, both regional councils should:

  • Define a common vision and brand for mining development in Västerbotten and Norrbotten.

  • Co-ordinate Västerbotten’s and Norrbotten’s regional development strategies to develop and internationalise technologies and practices for a carbon-free mining value chain.

  • Take a leading role in EU mining networks and Arctic co-operation to promote the benefits of carbon-free mining value chains for global environmental agendas.

IV. Strengthen the local business environment to make the most of mining and attain a resilient future for the region. For this, both regional councils and municipal governments should:

  • Develop an institutional body to promote and oversee co-operation among Upper Norrland’s municipalities.

  • Accelerate the attraction and integration of skilled migrants through better collaboration among municipalities and other regional actors.

  • Improve training and education programmes to prepare the workforce for technological changes and further include women in value-added mining activities.

V. Improve Sweden’s regulatory framework for mining to better reflect regional development opportunities and increase predictability. For this, the national government should:

  • Adopt instruments to improve predictability by introducing set timelines, limits for decision-making, intermediate steps and windows for dialogue at the onset of an application process.

  • Strengthen the incorporation of socio-economic, cultural and cumulative impacts in decision-making for mining concessions and environmental permits.

VI. Increase legitimacy and transparency of mining and permit processes through more developed and inclusive mechanisms of dialogue and consultation with all local actors, including Sami people. For this, the national government should:

  • Develop clear and consistent guidelines for the mining industry to define how the consultation process should proceed and who should be involved in it.

  • Ensure early-stage engagement and consultation rules within the framework of the Minerals Act and Environmental Code.

  • Strengthen the capacity of rights holders and interested parties for engagement, including of Sami villages.

VII. Better linking regional development with land-use planning. For this, regional councils should:

  • Create an effective co-ordination mechanism that allows for strategic dialogue about land use and economic development between municipalities and the regional councils.

  • Develop a platform for resource development to facilitate regional and sustainability-based planning for mines and natural resource projects together with other actors.

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