The importance of strategic metals lies in their ubiquity in advanced technologies, from super-magnets to lasers, electronics to high-tech military weapons, clean energy innovations to automobiles. In order for currently developing countries to attain a higher level of development and these increasingly important technologies, they will need access to strategic metals and the intellectual capacity to use them. What can we do to secure a future in which developing countries will have access to strategic metals when they need them? What kind of knowledge will these countries need to use strategic metals in advanced technologies and industry?
This page's solution will then focus on a specific aspect of the problem - namely, how the information about critical metals and their associated technology will be publicly accessible. Much like what is currently being done in the realm of scientific and industrial research, to more open source ventures, there needs to be a more open exchange of information. Mission 2016's proposed solution will involve implementing a board within the United Nations (UN) Economic and Social Council which works hand in hand with the World Trade Organization (WTO). The U.N. will carry out funding for a researcher exchange and development program, with a focus on making the results publicly available. There will also be an initiative to buy the rights for much of the research to make publicly available. These funds will be allocated from the United Nation's treasury. However, it is important to understand this unequal distribution more in depth first. The most common reasons for lack of access are that a country that does not have deposits within its geographic borders does not have the information or technology necessary to mine and process them. For example, one form of strategic metals, the rare earth elements, are not uniformly distributed across the planet's surface, nor do they follow a typical "veined" distribution that many other valuable metals follow. They instead are found in low concentrations together in various minerals. The knowledge gap of how to attain, refine, and use these and other strategic elements has become more apparent as China has come to dominate the strategic metals market through their technical expertise, cutting-edge research, and wealth of ore deposits. This problem has affected all countries disproportionately. Some countries have an immediate demand for these metals while others only need them in the future given the critical role of these metals in most modern technologies. Many modern countries need strategic metals for their ever expanding middle class, specifically in China, India, and Africa. (11).
In order to create an environment where open information exchange can occur, the approach is two-fold. First, there will be more research collaboration among current strategic metal experts because of the potential to obtain funding through this program from the United Nations Economic and Social Council and donations given to the organization. In addition to the name recognition gained from gaining these new grants, the funding will provide these researchers with the captivating opportunities to solve a problem no one has been able to solve.
New research will be done on an international scale because this is a global problem, where the scope of the problem is not just limited to the archetypical dichotomy of developed or developing countries. It has become clear that no one country holds the solution to the problems associated with strategic metals, like recycling methods and mining techniques. Thus, countries should come to the realization that in order to help themselves in this scenario, they shall need to collaborate.
Based on current methods of manufacturing and the world's current chemical knowledge, strategic metals play a crucial role that no government can afford to ignore. The United Nations will form a board that will formulate a process for research proposal submissions (including all forms), allocate funding for this plan research program in the first year of its formation, and be prepared for the first round of proposed research projects submissions no later than the next calendar year.
Mission 2016 proposes that research on strategic metals, including their chemical properties, uses in manufacturing, and potential substitutes for technologies that rely on them, be done more collaboratively - on an international scale. It is well-known in the scientific community that collaboration can bring a cornucopia of knowledge for all of the collaborators. For this reason, governments are willing to fund these joint ventures to create mutual benefits and advance technological frontiers. These joint ventures can be funded by the researchers' respective institutions, corporations, and governments, as well as the larger international regulatory body. When more resources are directed towards solving this problem, the building of a framework for future use of these strategic metals will have begun. While it is envisioned that these joint ventures will be between developed countries, both developed and developing countries will be encouraged to work together on understanding and tackling the many problems involved with strategic metals.
Such collaborations, in order to obtain government or United Nations funding, need to publish results in a peer-reviewed journal, coupled with a proposal for possible outreach programs and a plan to make the new knowledge freely available within six months. This way, in addition to developed countries gaining vast amounts of new knowledge, developing countries can have access to this information as needed to expedite their future development. This way, developing countries can develop quickly, as they will have ready access to the knowledge about critical technologies and metals that are needed to fuel many advanced technologies.
Such an international, collaborative endeavor will require guidelines. The U.N. will set down the criteria for approval for funding of these projects, using a representative board elected by the U.N. and peer-based rating system. Such criteria will involve applications requiring basic information: name, language, affiliation of all participating parties (university, corporation, non-profits, etc.), project summary, a full budget proposal (broken down into salaries and benefits, equipment/facility, materials & supplies, travel, dissemination, and technology transfer activities, as well as taking into account financial support from other sources), and discussion of plans for protecting and disposing of intellectual property rights gained from this granted project. Grants will be awarded in varying amounts, with a minimum of 5 years per grant, renewable upon re-application.
This body will also have a database of collaborators, as well as a repository of all the research conducted by member states. This body will also put forth an initiative to buy rights or negotiate for pertinent strategic metal knowledge to be available in the repository of knowledge for all countries and entities to access freely.
For developing countries, it is important to gain immediate access to the information in this database in order to grow as necessary. Unfortunately, it has become easier for foreign companies to start businesses in politically stable developing countries. The foreign companies come in with trained staff to face the problem of an untrained and uneducated local population. It is much more expensive in the long run for foreign companies to bring in a work force from home countries so for their own benefit, the local population should begin to be educated. It then makes the most sense to focus on the parts of the world where various factors lead to it being economically beneficial to adopt our policies and technologies.
It is also important to understand how this knowledge will be disseminated to developing countries in particular. Our plan is that our subcommittee of the UN will be in charge of this database, and that the representatives sent to the UN Economic and Social Council will bring back the appropriate knowledge and goals for each of these countries. These representatives will convey the information directly to their governmental head of industry and/or commerce, as appropriate. This head of industry or commerce will then disseminate this knowledge to the companies directly. Throughout this process, there will be a strong emphasis on how the knowledge, goals, and regulations (in the form of new or updated laws for this country) from this subcommittee will be best for their country and companies economically, environmentally, and socially speaking.
Through the specific subcommittee of the UN, Mission 2016 will push for companies to construct a five- to ten-year plan that includes the foundation for building educational centers and schools around mines to build increased knowledge of operations and to maximize the efficiency and safety of these mines/industrial centers. High standars will be enforced, as well as anti-corruption policies through the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Transparency International, the International Chamber of Commerce, the World Economic Forum Partnership Against Corruption Initiative and the World Bank Institute. (12) These organizations can blacklist corrupt companies that exploit local officials.
While many countries have similar programs in place, a strategic metal focused, research exchange program has yet to be implemented on an international scale. Such a program could lead to making significant progress on the large global problems associated with strategic metals. The current justification for governments that currently have this program is that gaining such crucial, cutting edge, and new technical knowledge is to their advantage, in addition to benefitting the larger scientific community by helping gain more insights into solving the larger global problems. This international level exchange targeted towards critical elements bridges the critical knowledge gap that should be bridged immediately. Similar international, collaborative research projects have proven able to produce a wealth of knowledge. (6, 9) The United Nations has also produced and funded many successful organizations, including the World Health Organization.
We can see from China's rise to power that when large amounts of government pressure and funding push scientists towards a certain field of study, over time, such a field or realm of knowledge will be greatly expanded and respected.(8) This is not the only intergovernmental collaboration, and it will not be the last. Another current example of governments coming together is the G8 Research Council's Initiative on Multilateral Research Funding because "Global challenges need global solutions and this pilot initiative provides a new framework for cooperation across a broad range of disciplines and on a multilateral and multinational basis."(9) Criteria of many governmental associations that already engage in this sort of exchange have been taken into account and have been modified to suit critical metals research on an international level. (3, 4, 5, 6, 7)
(1) - http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/01/31/china-wto-exports-idUSL4E8CV4W920120131
(2) - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-20000299
(3) - http://www.nserc-crsng.gc.ca/International-Internationale/Professors-Professeurs_eng.asp
(4) - http://www.nserc-crsng.gc.ca/Professors-Professeurs/Grants-Subs/Frontiers-Frontiers_eng.asp
(5) - http://www.nserc-crsng.gc.ca/_doc/Professors-Professeurs/IF_F101_e.pdf
(6) - http://ec.europa.eu/research/mariecurieactions/documents/documentation/legal-docs/marie-curie-actions-fellowships-people-wp-201301_en.pdf
(7) - http://www.jst.go.jp/EN/menu4/index.html
(8) - http://fmso.leavenworth.army.mil/documents/rareearth.pdf
(9) - http://www.jsps.go.jp/j-bottom/g8-initiative.html
(10) - http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390443437504577546772533972202.html
(11) - http://phys.org/news/2012-09-rare-earth-metals.html
(12) - http://www.unglobalcompact.org/Issues/transparency_anticorruption/