The EU’s Critical Raw Materials Act is a great start to ensuring more sustainable supply, but the industry must address the challenge of public acceptance.
As EU Raw Materials Week concludes, all eyes are on its flagship draft Critical Raw Materials Act. If adopted as anticipated, it will be the first time in a generation that European policymakers have created a new framework to encourage Europe’s exploration and extraction of its own mineral and metal resources, an essential requirement for its proposed green and digital transitions.
From batteries for electric vehicles to energy storage for renewable energy, critical raw materials (CRMs) are essential minerals increasingly used in new technologies.
From safeguarding the competitiveness of European industry to delivering a more sustainable future, reliable access to certain raw materials is key to Europe’s future. What isn’t grown to deliver a more sustainable future will need to be mined.
Europe is vulnerable if it wants to go green and innovate, compete on the global stage and attract investment.
While consuming 27 percent of current global supply of CRMs, Europe only mines an estimated 3 percent of its current CRM needs. With global demand expected to increase by as much as 500 percent by 2050, according to the World Bank, Europe can no longer rely on imports.
Europe cannot continue to outsource its future needs. It must secure shorter and more resilient supply chains and import more, recycle more and extract more of its own resources to meet demand.
Beyond the economic and environmental imperative, Europe faces a dichotomy. The public debate has yet to shift focus from what policymakers know we need, to what society is prepared to welcome.
Many communities have negative perceptions around mining and the mining sector. What might benefit society in general doesn’t necessarily feel right for those communities that will be impacted.
While what is in the draft CRM Act is encouraging, a longer journey is about to begin. Becoming a partner of choice is dependent on building trust and credibility with those who will be impacted most by day-to-day operations.
Communities must be the first to feel and see the benefits.
The proposed Jadar mine in Loznica, Serbia, illustrates the point. A rare example of a high-grade deposit that could supply enough lithium to power over 1 million EVs a year, the challenges to becoming operational have been well publicized.
Beyond the new policy framework, a broad range of stakeholders including policymakers, industry, NGOs and civil society must come together to bridge the gap between the technical and commercial challenges in bringing new mines to market.
It will take time before society understands the essential role that mining needs to play in Europe’s sustainable future. The mining industry accepts and understands its legacy. Things need to be better explained and the industry needs to listen more and work harder to mitigate any concerns if trust is to be built. Credibility is dependent upon a transparent and accountable approach when it comes to sharing information.
Mining has also changed considerably. Significant investments in new innovations and technologies means sustainable mining is achievable. From mining underground to creating a minimum industrial footprint at surface level, the use of electric transport fleets, reduction in waste and recycling are all examples of better ways of doing things.
This new European policy framework is welcomed, but is not going to be enough. Public acceptance is essential to ensure enough new mining projects are developed. Downstream industries, which rely on CRMs, must have access to a sufficient and affordable supply to enable Europe’s economy to continue to grow, innovate and remain competitive.
Different stakeholder groups need to work together to build consensus. The industry needs to demonstrate that 21st century mining can deliver the minerals needed, at scale, in a fully transparent and accountable way, to the highest environmental standards with minimum impact.
An industry that works with the communities it operates within, brings social and environmental benefits, and rehabilitates former mining sites.
Source: Automotive News Europe