Sweden is the leading mining nation in the EU and accounts for over 90% of the European continent’s iron ore, as well as considerable proportions of its lead, zinc, silver, gold and copper. In 2019, ore production was the highest ever, with more than 86 million tons. The mining industry is of substantial importance to the country’s growth and economy. Since the early 20th century, the mines of Västerbotten and Norrbotten in the north of Sweden, and particularly the iron ore mines in Kiruna and Malmberget, have dominated the Swedish mining and metals industry. The Kiruna mine is the largest underground iron ore mine in the world, while Boliden’s Aitik mine, outside Gällivare, is Europe’s largest copper mine, and is also Sweden’s largest gold producer.
Apart from the traditional mining areas in northern Sweden, the past few years have seen an increased interest in exploring minerals such as vanadium, lithium and cobalt in several different parts of the country. All of these minerals are part of the EU’s list of critical raw materials that are needed for batteries, wind turbines and solar panels in the effort to reduce fossil fuel emissions. With some exceptions, these minerals are not mined in Sweden today. However, efforts are underway to improve conditions for the exploration and development of mines through substantial amendments of the current legislation, including a simplified permit process and strengthening of the national interest to extract innovation-critical minerals when weighed against other interests under the environmental laws.
The industry consists of a large mining cluster made up of large and small companies, many of which act as subcontractors to the direct mining industry. Sweden’s long history of mining and the size of the industry have led to Sweden also being a leader in mining equipment manufacturing, with Swedish engineering companies accounting for a large share of global underground equipment sales.
Sweden's legal system is based on civil law. All laws governing the mining industry are national and apply throughout the country, but decisions under the laws are taken by authorities on state, regional and local levels. Any EU legislation relating to the mining industry is also applicable.
The principal law regulating the mining industry is the Minerals Act (1991:45), which governs the entire procedure for obtaining exploration permits as well as mining (exploitation) permits. Its provisions include the conditions for land designation, termination, transfer and fees regarding permits.
The Environmental Code (1998:808) is equally important. The start of any mining operations will require an environmental permit following an environmental impact assessment (EIA). This means that all permits for mining (as opposed to exploration) must be obtained both under the Minerals Act and under the Environmental Code.
Other laws that may come into play include:
Mineral resources in Sweden that are listed in the Minerals Act are the property of the nation and are available for commercial use to anyone who is able to obtain a mining permit. There is no difference between surface and subsurface minerals.
Any minerals not listed in the Minerals Act belong to the landowner. The reasoning behind this legislation is that landowners in general are considered not to have the expertise or capacity for exploiting mineral resources on their land. The rules are the same regardless of whether the landowner is a private or public entity or an individual.
The role of the Swedish State is essentially that of grantor and regulator. There is no expectation of participation by the State as explorer or operator, whether through joint ventures, shareholdings or otherwise. The State has, however, retained its historical ownership of 100% of the shares in LKAB, Sweden’s foremost iron ore mining company.
Mineral rights do not have a constitutional basis but derive from law, principally in the form of the Minerals Act. Any commercial entities are free to enter into contracts for joint ventures, earn-in agreements, transfers of permits and other transactions regarding mineral rights. To the extent that such agreements change any circumstances that are subject to existing permits, the parties may need consent from the relevant authority. Mineral rights (ie, permits) have the status of intellectual property in the Swedish legal system.
The main granting authority is the Mining Inspectorate, which is a national state authority. The Mining Inspectorate will assess all applications for exploration permits and mining permits in Sweden, and also supervises compliance with the Minerals Act (1991:45). The Mining Inspectorate also provides information about legislation and ongoing prospecting and processing for companies, interested parties, authorities, media and the public. The Mining Inspectorate is organised under the Geological Survey of Sweden (SGU) but has independent status in exercising authority. It is headed by the Chief Mining Inspector, who decides on issues in accordance with the Minerals Act.
Decisions by the Inspectorate take the form of formal public authority decisions, which can be appealed to:
Apart from the fact that any mining operation must also be approved by the relevant regional land and environmental court (see 1.2 Legal System and Sources of Mining Law), there is no overlap in jurisdiction between state and regional authorities.
An exploration permit is valid for a period of three years and can be extended for a maximum of 15 years. The conditions for extension depend on the likelihood of finding mineable minerals and the amount of exploration already conducted. For each extension, the conditions tend to become gradually more strict.
The holder of an exploration permit has a preferential right to acquire a mining permit for the concerned area. A mining permit will be granted if the applicant can show that the mineral deposit provides a sufficient probability of profitable mining, and provided that the location and nature of the deposit do not render it inappropriate to grant the permit for other reasons.
A mining permit gives the holder the right to exploit a mineral deposit for a period of 25 years. It can be extended for ten years at a time if work is performed on a regular basis in the stipulated area. If work is not performed on a regular basis in the area, the concession can still be extended for an additional period of ten years under certain circumstances – eg, if the mining operation can still be considered active or if it is otherwise motivated by the common interest that the mineral findings should continue to be exploited.
Environmental permits may be time limited or valid for an unlimited time. However, even if unlimited, the environmental permit will be linked to the restrictions of the parallel mining permit under the Minerals Act.
Both exploration permits and mining permits can be transferred to another party after approval by the Mining Inspectorate. Such permission can be granted if the intended new permit holder meets the conditions set forth in the Minerals Act. The transfer of an environmental permit is also possible, provided that the new holder is taking over the permitted operation.
The Mining Inspectorate has the power to revoke any exploration permit or mining permit if the holder fails to fulfil their obligations under the Minerals Act or the terms specified in the exploration permit or mining permit, or if there are other exceptional reasons. In the latter case, the permit holder is entitled to compensation from the State for the loss suffered.
The terms of a mining permit can also be changed by the Mining Inspectorate if an operation under the permit leads to considerable negative effects that were not anticipated when the permit was granted. The Environmental Code also provides the possibility to change the conditions of an environmental permit or to revoke the environmental permit, in whole or in part. Valid reasons for this would be either considerable breach of the terms of the permit or unforeseen consequences of a severe nature. A change process can be initiated by several governmental authorities.
The development of a mining project in Sweden is always subject to approval by a regional Land and Environment Court, which rules according to the main environmental law in Sweden: the Environmental Code. The same rules in the Code apply to mines as to any other operation that has an impact on the environment. In respect of a mining operation, the Land and Environment Court will examine the health and environmental effects of a mine and the protective measures to be put in place if the permit is granted. The court will also decide on the conditions for noise levels, damming, dumping, limiting emissions and so on. An EIA must always be submitted in the application process.
The first step in acquiring an environmental permit for mining is the consultation process. This takes place between the applicant and those parties that may be environmentally affected by the mining operations, as well as public and private agencies and organisations concerned with environmental issues, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (Naturvårdsverket). The purpose is to allow all concerned parties to be heard and have their interests considered when preparing the EIA.
When the consultation and the EIA have been completed, the applicant may proceed and submit to the Land and Environmental Court, which will assess whether the information presented in the consultation and the EIA is detailed enough to proceed with a ruling or if further particulars are required. As the case proceeds, other affected parties are allowed to file additional information relating to the application. The complete information will then be sent to all parties for review and comments. The applicant will have the opportunity to address any comments made during the consultation process. The complete process for obtaining a permit under the Environmental Code usually takes three to five years, depending on the size of the operation and where it is to be carried out.
If exploration work could have a significant impact on the environment, this will also necessitate certain investigations of the environmental aspects according to the Environmental Code. The Mining Inspectorate also hears applications for both exploration permits and mining permits in consultation with the County Administrative Board, which conducts its own examination of whether the site is acceptable from an environmental point of view and not just under the Minerals Act.
Overall, the County Administrative Board plays an important role in the examination of mining operations. Apart from acting as a referral body, it issues special permits for some exploration work, such as for driving offroad. The Environmental Permit Office of the County Administrative Board decides on test mining permits. The County Administrative Board and the local municipality’s Environment Health Board are supervisory authorities regarding permit holders’ compliance with the environmental conditions.
Natura 2000 is a network of core breeding and resting sites for rare and threatened species, and some rare natural habitat types that are protected in their own right. It stretches across all 27 EU countries, both on land and at sea. The aim of the network is to ensure the long-term survival of Europe's most valuable and threatened species and habitats, listed under both the Birds Directive (2009/147/EC) and the Habitats Directive (Council Directive 92/43/EEC). Under the Environmental Code, if an intended operation is located near or within a Natura 2000 area, the applicant must demonstrate that the activity will not affect the environment in a significant way. The Land and Environmental Court tends to take a strict view on matters affecting Natura 2000 areas.
Environmental and other considerations also dictate that mining operations are normally not permitted in locations:
No exploration is allowed in national parks or in any area that has been reserved for a national park according to a governmental request.
During the application for an environmental permit, there are opportunities for all affected parties (ie, members of the public, organisations, local councils and authorities) to put forward opinions regarding the application. There is also a right to appeal. Following publication of the terms of an environmental permit, there is also an opportunity for other affected parties to suggest further conditions. Such conditions are typically aimed at limiting the environmental impact and disruption to the public and residents in the area, in the form of noise, dust and vibrations.
Prior and informed consultation is a mandatory part of the process to obtain an environmental permit. The consultation must be carried out by the applicant in order for the application to proceed. All affected parties shall have the opportunity to express their opinions on a mining application.
In the case of exploration permits, consultation according to the Environmental Code is normally not required, unless the application concerns unexploited mountainous areas or unless the intended exploration may substantially affect the natural environment (eg, by way of new roads, logging or extensive drilling). However, the Minerals Act still requires an application for an exploration permit to be notified to all real estate owners concerned and other known affected parties, as well as the County Administrative Board and the local municipality. If the intended exploration area is used for reindeer husbandry, notification is also required to the indigenous Sami people, who have a right to object.
Because of the concentration of mining operations in the northern parts of Sweden, the impact on the indigenous Sami people is of particular importance, particularly with regard to the reindeer industry. The reindeer industry operates over large areas and is therefore affected by several different operations that occupy large land areas, including mines, forestry, wind power and tourism. The Sami are one of the world's indigenous people and one of Sweden's official national minorities. Their minority status means that they have special rights and that their culture, traditions and languages are protected by law.
Both the Minerals Act and the Environmental code provide that holders of rights to the affected land must be notified and/or consulted during the processing of exploration permits, mining permits and environmental permits. This means the Sami may have the power to argue, contest or appeal permit applications at different stages. If mining rights affect the Sami’s reindeer herding, compensation will have to be paid.
Sweden’s dominating iron ore mining company – LKAB, which operates in Kiruna and in Malmberget in northern Sweden – has entered into several development agreements with the Kiruna municipality. This has been necessitated by the unprecedented urban transformation currently underway due to the effects of LKAB’s mining on the local community. A series of “Mine City Park agreements” has made it possible for LKAB to continue mining the iron ore that slopes in under the current Kiruna city centre. In addition, a substantial part of the entire city is being moved several kilometres to the east, in a project that is being paid for by LKAB.
The LKAB–Kiruna development agreements represent a very special case because of the unique circumstances in LKAB’s areas of operation. Community development agreements are not a common feature of the Swedish mining industry.
In 2017, Sweden’s Riksdag (parliament) introduced a climate policy framework with a new Climate Act (2017:720). The Act establishes that:
The action plan includes a review of all relevant legislation and further measures in emissions sectors. There is a particular focus on the transport sector, which is likely to have an impact on the mining industry.
A prime example of good community relations and consultation around a mining project is iron ore producer LKAB’s very long-term and extensive co-operation with the municipality of Kiruna in the north of Sweden (see 2.6 Community Development Agreement for Mining Projects). The community is dependent on LKAB for jobs and investment, while at the same time LKAB needs the community to provide infrastructure, homes and services for its workforce. The local municipality and LKAB have entered into a number of agreements for the development of the community, particularly as a consequence of the expansion of the mining area, which has led to large-scale moving and reconstruction of public and private buildings in Kiruna.
In contrast, one of the most contentious mining projects in Sweden in recent times is the Kallak project in the far north of the country. A UK mining company, Beowulf Mining, has found at least 600 million tonnes of iron ore in the area and has been pressing for a mining permit in the face of fierce opposition. Plans for the mine have been opposed by the indigenous Sami people, who have the backing of UN rights experts and the UN cultural organisation UNESCO, as well as climate change activist Greta Thunberg. A UN spokesman issued a public statement expressing great concern about “the lack of good-faith consultations and the failure to obtain the free, prior and informed consent of the Sami, and over the significant and irreversible risks that the (Kallak) project poses to Sami lands, resources, culture and livelihoods”.
In the summer of 2019, more than 1,000 people got together in a tent camp in Kallak to protest in solidarity with the Sami people. Nevertheless, in March 2022 the Swedish government gave a qualified green light to Beowulf to proceed with its plans for an iron ore mine. This enabled Beowulf to start economic and environmental studies and apply to an environmental court to start processing ore, but it will have to meet a range of environmental and other conditions that the government attached to its approval.
In 2018, Svemin (the Swedish Association of Mines, Mineral and Metal Producers) presented a Road Map for a Competitive and Fossil-free Mining and Mineral Industry, in collaboration with the Research Institutes of Sweden (RISE) and Fossil-free Sweden. The targets in the road map include fossil free mining in 2035 and climate-neutral processing and completely fossil-free energy use in 2045. To implement the roadmap, the industry is working on:
Svemin is co-ordinating the process of implementing the roadmap, and it is reported that several mining companies have drawn on it to produce roadmaps of their own.
No climate change legislation specific to mining has yet been passed in Sweden. The Climate Policy Framework of 2017, which introduced the Climate Act, includes a review of all relevant legislation in emissions sectors. One of the sectors to be analysed is the transport sector, which is closely related to and likely to impact the mining industry. In the meantime, climate change initiatives directly related to mining are being pushed forward by industry organisations such as Svemin, with its Road Map for a Competitive and Fossil-free Mining and Mineral Industry (see 3.1 Climate Change Effects).
Svemin has developed a roadmap detailing how increased consideration for biological diversity can also be profitable, called Mining with Nature. The goal is for the mining industry to contribute to increased biodiversity in all the regions where mining and mineral activities and exploration are ongoing by 2030.
Svemin has also introduced the TraceMet project, which investigates the possibility of tracing certified and sustainably broken metals. The project uses the following criteria:
Another project is “Swedish Mining and Minerals Industry in a Sustainable Future”, which is a collaborative project between Svemin and the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). The project examines the mining industry’s conditions for contributing to sustainable societal development based on different future scenarios.
The Swedish bedrock contains about half of the critical raw materials listed by the EU as being needed for batteries, wind turbines, solar panels and other products in the renewable energy industry. Today, however, there is no mining of these metals and minerals in Sweden, widely attributed to the lengthy and inefficient permitting process. The situation has caused Sweden to drop in the international rankings of attractiveness for prospecting, even though it is one of the only countries in Europe where the geological conditions make it possible to contribute to reducing Europe’s dependence on imports.
In 2013, the government published a Mineral Strategy identifying the need for a clearer and more effective regulatory framework, including follow-up and evaluation of performed initiatives to shorten environmental permitting lead-times. Since then, the problem has been discussed in numerous reports, and the continuing problems with permitting lead-times have been increasingly criticised by the industry.
On 11 March 2021, the government decided to appoint a public inquiry to review and report on permitting laws and procedures, with the aim of ensuring a sustainable supply of innovation-critical metals and minerals from primary and secondary sources. The inquiry published its findings and recommendations on 31 October 2022, recommending substantial amendments to the Minerals Act, the Environmental Code and other laws aimed at, among other things:
The first recommendations from the enquiry were transformed into new regulations in November 2023, when the government introduced a general exemption for exploration work in respect of the restrictions in the Off-road Driving Act (1975:1313) and abolished the need under the Environmental Assessment Ordinance (2013:251) to notify the local municipality of deep drilling activities that are within the scope of an exploration permit.
The new regulations entered into force on 1 January 2024. Further legislative proposals are expected as a result of the enquiry.
Anyone operating an active mine must pay a state mineral fee of 0.2% of the average value of the minerals mined. The revenue is then split between the landowner(s) and the state, with landowners receiving 0.15% and the state receiving 0.05%.
Exploration permits are subject to an application fee of SEK500 for every 2,000 hectares, payable to the Mining Inspectorate. If permission is granted, another SEK20 for each hectare has to be paid for the first three years. An application for a mining permit carries a fee of SEK80,000 for each area the application concerns. There is an additional fee for designation of land proceedings.
There is no distinction between national and foreign investors in relation to these fees.
Sweden does not offer any tax incentives for mining investors. All exploration and mining companies are subject to the standard corporate income tax, currently 20.6%.
There is no transfer tax related to the sale of mining projects. The disposition of a project may result in a capital gain and, if so, will be subject to tax on that gain. For a Swedish limited liability company, all income – whether capital gain or otherwise – is taxed as business income at a flat rate corporate income tax (20.6%).
If the transfer of a project happens entirely through corporate structures outside of Sweden, no capital gains tax will be payable in Sweden.
Stamp duty is always payable by the buyer of real estate, regardless of the buyer’s tax domicile. For legal persons, the duty is 4.25%.
After having ranked consistently highly in world mining surveys for investment attractiveness, Sweden started plunging down the list of the Fraser Institute’s Annual Survey of Mining Companies after 2016, attributed largely to the lengthy and inefficient permitting process. It is hoped that the substantial amendments to the Minerals Act and the Environmental Code that are now being suggested will address the situation and allow Sweden to regain its position among the world's top mining nations.
Sweden has vast deposits of minerals and metals and a track record of mineral discoveries in numerous commodities. The country has political stability with a strong rule of law, a high concentration of professionals to service the mining industry, low corporate tax and well-functioning capital and private equity markets. These are factors that contribute to attracting considerable investment in the Swedish mining industry.
A new Foreign Direct Investment Screening Act (2023:560) (FDI Act) came into force on 1 December 2023 and applies to certain designated sensitive sectors of Swedish industry, one of which is the exploration and mining of strategic minerals. The purpose of the FDI Act is to prevent foreign direct investments that may harm national security, public order or public safety. The FDI Act will apply to investments that result in the investor acquiring (directly or indirectly):
No turnover or deal value thresholds apply. Specific thresholds apply to investments in other legal entities (eg, limited partnerships) and to greenfield investments. Investors from all countries are covered by the screening mechanism (including investors from Sweden and other EU member states). However, only investments made by an investor from a country outside the EU may be subject to a substantive examination by the screening authority and a decision to prohibit the investment or to impose conditions.
The potential investor is responsible for filing the transaction with the screening authority. There is no filing fee. The authority then has 25 working days from receipt of a complete notification to initiate an examination. If no action is taken, the transaction is deemed to be accepted. If the authority decides to examine the investment, it has to make a final decision within three months after the decision to initiate the examination. If there are special grounds, this deadline may be extended to six months.
Sweden is not party to any particular treaties related to exploration and mining. There have been calls for Sweden to ratify the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (ILO 169) and to amend the Minerals Act to give more weight to the Sami people’s interests. Sweden has chosen not to ratify this treaty, but a current legislative proposal aims to increase local community acceptance in general through better information and dialogue at an early stage, and through benefit sharing using central government funds.
For exploration projects, the main sources of financing are the equity markets (public or private equity placements) and earn-in/joint venture transactions. A typical version of the latter is where a smaller company controlling a portfolio of exploration permits extends an option to a more senior company for it to earn an equal or majority interest in the project in exchange for expending funds in exploration, according to an agreed schedule. The smaller company will typically not be required to contribute funds until the senior company earns its controlling interest, following which (unless either party makes an exit) both parties contribute to the project in proportion to their interests. A joint venture will then be formed between the companies.
For projects developing into actual mining, traditional bank loans and project financing will become more available. In the case of project financing, a package of security will be created, typically comprising the shares in the project entity (which in turn includes the permits), floating charges in the business operation, and charges over any real estate and over machinery and equipment.
The largest Swedish mining operators are listed on the Stockholm Stock Exchange (Nasdaq OMX Nordic Stockholm). Several international exploration and mining companies active in Sweden are listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange, while other companies have listings in London, Sydney or Hong Kong. This means that the international securities markets play an important role in the financing of Swedish exploration and mining.
Security cannot be obtained directly in exploration permits or mining permits. It is not possible to register a charge, pledge or other third-party interest over the permit. However, permits will normally be held by a limited liability company, which can be subject to a pledge of its shares in favour of the lender and a floating charge in its business. Any real estate held can always be mortgaged as security. Mining machinery can be pledged individually in accordance with a special registration procedure.
On 12 January 2023, LKAB announced to the world press that it has identified more than 1 million tonnes of rare earth minerals in the Kiruna area in the far north of the country, representing the largest known such deposit in Europe. Rare earth minerals play a key role in generating clean energy and producing electric vehicles, wind turbines and consumer electronics. The market is currently dominated by China, which accounts for 60% of global production, but the discovery by LKAB (a state-owned company) creates the prospect that Europe could develop a domestic source of these minerals over time.
The discovery provides further incentive to the already ongoing efforts to improve the possibilities of mining innovation-critical minerals in Sweden. The government’s public inquiry report regarding the sustainable supply of innovation-critical metals and minerals (SOU 2022:56), published on 31 October 2022, had already identified that the climate transition creates a rapidly increasing demand for these minerals and that many of the innovations needed for the climate transition are critical to Sweden’s defence capabilities as well.
The public inquiry has suggested far-reaching changes to the Swedish mining laws to facilitate the exploration and mining of rare earth and other innovation-critical minerals and metals, including government funding for affected local communities and a simplified permitting process.
In June 2023, the government initiated a new inquiry regarding the simplification and shortening of permitting processes under the Environmental Code. This enquiry, which concerns not only mining but also all business activities that are subject to environmental permitting, aims to further streamline permit handling in order to increase the competitiveness of Swedish industry and to facilitate further investment in net-zero technologies. The inquiry is due to report its findings by 15 December 2024.
Another recent development is the renewed prospect of uranium mining in Sweden. The exploration of uranium was outlawed by a centre-left coalition government in 2018 on the grounds of environmental and health concerns. However, the current nuclear-friendly conservative-led government has announced its intention to lift the ban on uranium prospecting and mining. If and when this happens, new possibilities will emerge, especially in respect of polymetallic deposits where uranium is one of several minerals that can be extracted.
Sweden is already the foremost mining nation in the EU, based upon its production of iron ore, lead, zinc, silver, gold and copper. With its vast deposits of minerals and metals critical for innovation and with the greatly heightened European interest in such deposits, Sweden is set to play an important role in the ongoing climate transition and the efforts of the EU to reduce its dependency on imported critical minerals.