Just Criticality
: A Justice Framework for Critical Minerals Value Chains

  • Susan Nakanwagi

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Critical minerals are essential in addressing today's global challenges, like technology advancement, transport, and security, with climate change at the forefront as they play a crucial role in the energy transition. However, criticality assessments have primarily evaluated and classified minerals as ‘critical’ based on their utility in the global north (developed countries), limiting their considerations to supply risk and economic importance. This has left out concerns pertinent to the global south (developing countries), which this thesis seeks to investigate. Using DRC and Zambia, China and the EU, the thesis employs a case study methodology to analyse and study the nature of the critical mineral industry in developing and developed countries that are key to the critical minerals global value chain. The thesis narrows global critical mineral value chains using the copper-cobalt value chain from extraction in host critical mineral-rich countries to processing and refining in Asian countries and consumption in the Global North. This thesis finds that the criteria used in assessing criticality do not fulfil developing countries' justice and sustainable development ambitions and perspectives. The findings show that criticality assessments drive the supply and demand of critical minerals due to a polarised global north-centric system of assessing these minerals. Several challenges experienced in the host critical mineral communities are yet to be represented. The injustices are reflected in social, economic, ecological, political, technological and governance aspects. Even though critical minerals are spatially distributed globally, these justice challenges are more pronounced in areas with weak institutional structures in the Global South. Using the tenets of justice (Procedural, Distributive, Recognition, Restorative and Cosmopolitan Justice), the thesis creates a synergy between the polarised criticality considerations of critical minerals between the Global North and Global South. The thesis advances a ‘Just Holistic Framework for Critical Minerals Value Chains’ that combines criticality considerations of the two polarised worlds to facilitate global sustainability while addressing climate change, emphasising issues of the developing world. The thesis contributes to policy and literature by reconfiguring socio-legal studies in mining law. It combines elements of justice from classical Rawlsian justice theories to current pressing concerns using the Just Holistic Framework. The thesis also contributes to policy development by addressing the need for a holistic approach when dealing with critical minerals with extraterritorial implications, thus highlighting the need for international cooperation. Lastly, the thesis contributes to the literature by advancing other criticality factors that can later be evaluated in other disciplines such as geology, physics and economics when evaluating critical minerals.
Date of Award2022
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorAna Bastida (Supervisor)


  • Critical Minerals
  • Just Criticality
  • Climate Change
  • Energy Transition
  • Sustainability
  • Energy Justice
  • Just Transition
  • Critical Minerals Value Chain
  • Just Holistic Framework
  • Sustainable Development

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