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January 24, 2024

REPORT: Critical Minerals for the Energy Transition Reporting Workshop, 22-23 November 2023

A China Dialogue Trust and Wits Africa-China Reporting Project workshop and reporting grants initiative.

China Dialogue Trust and the Wits Africa-China Reporting Project (ACRP or the Project) held a workshop on reporting on critical mineral resources for the global energy transition on 22-24 November 2023, at Wits University, Johannesburg, South Africa. The Workshop convened with selected journalists who applied for the call, as well as academics and scholars, experts and representatives from civil society groups from Africa and other parts of the world, to unpack and provide a skills and knowledge on reporting on critical minerals for the energy transition.

In a world transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy technologies, critical minerals play a crucial and yet contradictory role. They are central to universal access to clean energy and the global energy transition. On the other hand, their production is often polluting, environmentally damaging and inequitable.

Critical minerals have also become a new frontier for economic policy across the Global South. Governments in countries ranging from Zimbabwe to Chile and DR Congo to Indonesia are striving to overturn the prevalent extractivist model of raw material exports and capture more value from critical minerals production. New approaches such as export bans and resource and industrial policy are emerging.

While there are many actors involved in critical minerals in Africa, Chinese companies are emerging as particularly prominent players in mining, processing and investing in the industry. Perspectives on Chinese companies’ involvement in the critical minerals sector in Africa range from source of opportunity to geopolitical threat.

What is the role for journalists and their reporting in this web of complex and important environmental, social and economic issues associated with critical minerals? How can journalists help to ensure the industry has more environmentally, socially and developmentally positive and just impacts on the African continent? And what skills, narratives and analytical insights could help achieve that?

The Critical Minerals for the Energy Transition Reporting Workshop featured expert-led discussions, interactive sessions and skills training on the reporting of the above issues and more. The full Workshop programme and videos to each of the sessions are below.

Session 1: Keynote Remarks - Critical minerals: From local to global

The Workshop opened with welcome and introductory remarks from Wits Africa-China Reporting Project Coordinator, Bongiwe Tutu, and China Dialogue Trust Global Editor, Tom Baxter.

Bongiwe Tutu welcomed all guests and introduced the work of the Wits Africa-China Reporting Project. She highlighted the significant objective of the Wits Africa-China Reporting Project, for public-oriented contextual journalism that would broaden public perception and understanding of China-Africa relations, recognising the need for mutual understanding of Africa-China relations in two ways; through quality news reporting and journalists' capacity building. Furthermore, Tutu reflected on the collaborations that ACRP has convened with China Dialogue Trust, imparting knowledge and reporting tools to journalists in Africa, China and other parts of the world.

The Critical Minerals for the Energy Transition Reporting Workshop, 2023, marked the fourth collaboration held jointly by the Wits Africa-China Reporting Project and China Dialogue Trust, including the Environmental Journalism Training Workshop & African Investigative Journalism Conference, (Sep.-Oct. 2020), the Journalists Training Workshop on Africa-China Relations and the Climate Crisis, (27 July 2022), as well as Reporting grants on the China-Africa relationship and the climate crisis.

Tom Baxter introduced the China Dialogue Trust, as the independent non-profit online media organisation, publishing reporting on environmental and climate issues, with a particular focus on China's involvement to these issues around the world. The publications are produced in a range of languages, as well as upholding quality standard for nuanced and informative reporting to advance dialogues within policymaking, academia and civil society organisations and groups. Baxter noted that the Workshop was an extension of five reporting grants awards made by the China Dialogue Trust to journalists from African countries, namely Ghana, Malawi, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Uganda.

Critical minerals are an issue of global importance, as they are essential to many technologies used in daily lives including electric vehicles, smartphones, and to the discussions of expanding access to cleaner and alternative energy sources around the world, to lessen the impact of fossil fuel energy. Tom highlighted the booming demand for critical minerals, with the example of lithium, which is reported to grow 40 times in the next two decades. Reporting on China's role on the supply chains of the critical minerals has grown significantly, especially from Western media sources. The impact of critical minerals mining, can result in employment, industrialisation and economic growth, and some reporting this as the "oil of the 21st century", while several reports point to needed control and measure to the supply chains. Baxter added that environmental considerations to the ecological damages and toxic by-products, social inequalities and injustices (labour laws, community displacements and human rights infringements) caused by the mining and processing of these resources required further attention, thus where the role of quality journalism becomes most important. The full reflections on this complex industry are presented in the video below.

Geraud Neema, China-Global South Project Francophone Editor, presented key remarks on Africa-China and Critical Minerals; New challenges; and Tips for journalists, the full remarks and powerpoint presentation and QnA session can be found in the video below. Dr Wei Shen of the Institute of Development Studies presented on Making Sense of the Complexity of the 'Green Mining' in the Context of Development, full remarks and presentation and QnA session can be found in the video below. The presentation unpacks the concept of sustainable mining; key resource countries for transitional minerals of Lithium, Cobalt, Nickel, Graphite, Aluminum, Copper and Manganese, worldwide and within perspectives from the global South; Green mining investments; Challenges in achieving the 'best practices'; Lessons from the past; Projections for the future.

Session 2: What are critical minerals?

The second session unpacked the meaning of minerals and critical minerals. The presentation was given by Dr Nelson Chipangamate, Programme & Business Development manager at the Wits Mining Institute. In defining reserves, known resources and total resources, the presentation found "reserves are restricted to known currently exploitable deposits"; "known resources are reserves plus currently non-exploitable deposits"; "total resources are known resources plus all deposits not yet discovered". Dr Chipangamate defined critical minerals, and further presented their evolution of society and industry, before WWI, through to the 1939s-1970s; 1980s; and the 2000s and beyond. Furthermore, the presentation highlights the three key attributes of critical minerals, how risks can be mitigated; and the value chain of critical minerals. The presentation further explores how China is advancing in Latin America and Africa; Canada's consolidating influence. The full presentation and QnA discussion is available in the video below, the powerpoint presentation is available here.

Session 3: Reporting and investigating critical minerals mining and production

The third session presented practical reflections on reporting and investigating critical minerals mining and production. The presentation is given by Ben Ayre, Global Witness; a long-standing NGO with over 30 years of working on factual and evidence-led findings on natural resource exploitation, conflict and corruption issues. The session is moderated by Bongiwe Tutu, Project Coordinator at Wits Africa-China Reporting Project. Ben Ayre noted that although the area of critical mineral mining is a new area for Global Witness, the NGO brings relevant historical expertise and existing campaigns which intersect in the area of critical minerals, including fossil fuel extraction, and forest degradation. Ayre further highlighted how Global Witness is reporting on critical minerals issues, reflecting on the context of critical minerals, where they are mined and operated; what they are used for and by whom; the various parties within the supply chain; the dynamics and harms brought about; and how we can support positive interventions. The full presentation and the QnA discussion is available in the video below.

Session 4: Do's and don'ts in reporting critical minerals

The fourth session presented the practical insights and experiences of reporters and media experts on the Do's and don'ts in the reporting of critical minerals. The session panelists included Julia Evans, Reporter from Daily Maverick; Fidelis Satriastanti, East-Asia Editor at China Global South Project; Eric Olander, Chief-Executive-Officer at China Global South Project; and with the moderation of Justice Wanzala, Africa Editor at China Dialogue Trust. The full discussion is available in the video below.

Session 5: Understanding and reporting on China in Africa

The final session brought insights on understanding and reporting on China in Africa, bringing perspectives from media experts, practitioners, researchers, journalists and editors within the Africa-China space. The session panelists included Sherry Chan, Initium Media, Bongiwe Tutu, Project Coordinator Wits Africa-China Reporting Project, Dr Lin Shi, International Institute for Green Finance, at the Central University of Finance and Economics, Yunong Wu, Mobility for Africa, and with the moderation of Tom Baxter, Global Editor at China Dialogue Trust. The full discussion is available in the video below.

Gallery: Critical Minerals for the Energy Transition Reporting Workshop

The Critical Minerals for the Energy Transition Reporting Workshop included a fieldtrip visit to the Cullinan Diamond Mine which falls under the flagship of Petra Diamond Mines, in Pretoria, Gauteng, South Africa. Workshop attendees were taken on a lengthy tour of the mine to learn of the various processing steps within the industry. It must be noted that although diamonds are not critical minerals, the visit was for the purpose of exposing attendees to considerations to mining environments holistically.

Gallery: Cullinan Diamond Mine Tour

Media Impact

The following reports were published as a result of the training facilitated in this Workshop:

  1. Uganda pins hopes on reviving Kilembe copper mines. By South Sudanese journalist Kei Emmanuel Duku Yona. First Published in Dialogue Earth (formerly China Dialogue Trust)
  2. Can Ghana’s lithium boom avoid the ‘gold curse’?. By Ghanaian journalist Jonas Nyabor. First published in Dialogue Earth (formerly China Dialogue Trust)
  3. Kenya grapples with titanium miner’s legacy. By Kenyan journalist Asha Bekidusa. First published in Dialogue Earth (Formerly China Dialogue Trust)
  4. School children in Zimbabwe drop out for lithium mines. By Zimbabwean journalist Bernard Chiguvare. First published in China Dialogue Trust
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