Zijin Mining project is one of the many highly polluting Chinese investments
China’s Zijin Mining is polluting a village in southeastern Europe’s Serbia without permits, local consent or transparency, an environmental activist group claims.
Bor, in northeastern Serbia, is one of the Balkan country’s most polluted cities, according to Just Finance, a Dutch group that advocates for public budgets spent on development and infrastructure finance to contribute to sustainability.
The group said China’s Zijin Mining, which runs the city’s large-scale copper mining and smelting complex, is one of the many highly polluting Chinese investments undertaken “without the necessary environmental and social due diligence”.
“Since 2018, when the new owner of Bor smelter complex, the Chinese-owned Serbia Zijin Copper started its operations, the lives of the citizens in at least five villages in this area of Serbia have been upended,” the group said.
In an open letter this March the villagers of Ostrelj said Serbia Zijin Copper and Serbia Zijin Mining are expanding their activities, which threatens their health, private property, and livelihood.
In 2016, Zijin agreed to pump nearly $1.5 billion into the Serbian copper and gold project and paid $350 million for 63% of state-run Serbian miner RTB Bor Group.
The villagers are calling on the authorities to stop unauthorised construction and find a solution for residents living between old and new mines and hills of tailings. “When winds blow, the Ostrelj village is coated in toxic dust,” Just Finance said.
The villagers claim that the authorities have not developed a master plan that takes into account environmental impact.
Just Finance said an environmental impact assessment for one facility was put out for public consultation after it had already been built, Asia Financial writes.
Jadar could have made Serbia billions of dollars richer
Jadar could have made Serbia billions of dollars richer if not for voiding Rio Tinto’s lithium exploration licences in January. Serbians might have made the right decision after finding out the real plans of the project.
Europe’s largest lithium mine
The Jadar lithium project is Europe’s largest lithium mine, with a supposed $2.4 billion fund from Rio Tinto. The said lithium mine could produce 1 million electric vehicle (EV) batteries. However, locals of Jadar Valley opposed the project, not willing to sacrifice their land. They don’t want to replace their sweet and juicy raspberries and abundant bees with batteries for electric vehicles. Besides, the damages that mining will create are irreparable.
Rio Tinto found a new type of mineral called jadarite, containing borates and lithium. Jadarite was discovered in Jadar, hence the name of the mineral, in 2004. According to the giant mining company, these materials play a key role in the green transition. Lithium is important in manufacturing EV batteries. Borates, on the other hand, are useful in making wind and solar projects.
The supposed Serbia Jadar Lithium Project is one of the planet’s biggest greenfield lithium projects. Jadar’s high-grade nature and extensive deposit provide the possibility of a mine that can supply lithium for EVs for several decades. The abundance of boron and lithium deposits can make Serbia a key world producer.
If the project pursues, the initial mine’s commercial production is anticipated no earlier than 2027. The yearly production would be 58,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate and 160,000 tonnes of boric acid (B2O3
units). The production of sodium sulphate1, on the other hand, will be 255,000 tonnes.
Lies emerged about the Jadar Lithium Project
Gornje Nedeljice locals had peace of mind when the government decided to revoke Rio Tinto’s licence for mine jadarite. In fact, Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic announced it herself.
However, not everyone is convinced, especially Marijana Petković, a local campaign group Ne Damo Jadar member. She said, “I want the western countries to have the green transition and to live like people in Jadar. But that doesn’t mean that we need to destroy our nature. We started to fight against the mine when they found out the company was lying to us for 14 years; when we found out how big the mine really is.”
There’s a prevailing scepticism about the cancellation of the Jadar lithium project. The government only nullified the project to end protests that could mess up the presidential and parliamentary elections (April 3). It could resume if there were reelection of the government.
“Once re-elected, we expect the SNS will maintain its pro-mining stance. The fact that the government has so far refused to consider a potential lithium mining ban in Serbia points in this direction. This gave environmental protests an anti-government element and proved to be a unifying force for the historically fragmented political opposition in Serbia,” said Capucine May, Verisk Maplecroft expert.
However, Rio Tinto repudiated that this wasn’t their intention. They said it was not their plan or didn’t fulfil any activities or actions to the project’s legal stature.
They say that what you don’t know won’t hurt you. But the truth will always find a way to reveal itself. Locals found out that Jadar Lithium Project won’t just take 20 hectares of land but 600 hectares! It’s almost the size of 10,000 tennis courts, European Views writes.
Environmentalists oppose lignite mine projects in North Macedonia
The general manager of state-owned utility ESM said it would open two lignite mines, which was strongly condemned by environmentalist organization Eko-svest. The mine opening was announced in the context of new challenges with the energy crisis in North Macedonia and the next heating season, while the environmentalists claim that coal mines are unacceptable from environmental, energy and economic aspects.
Economy Minister Kreshnik Bekteshi said the government has so far helped government-controlled electricity producer Elektrani na Severna Makedonija (ESM) with EUR 171 million to cover the rise in electricity and heating costs that was caused by the energy crisis. General Manager Vasko Kovačevski announced at the same press conference that two lignite mines would be opened.
Kovačevski: Results come after a long time, and the effect of what is done in energy today will be seen in three to five years
“The crisis has prompted the need to use the mines for longer, so we are investing in our own new pits: the Živojno mine in REK Bitola and the Gušterica mine in REK Oslomej. But it must be acknowledged that results in the energy sector come after a long time, and the effect of what is done today in energy will be seen in three to five years. We have endured a great blow – we are preparing for the future. First and foremost, for the new challenges with the energy crisis and the next heating season,” ESM’s general manager said.
Environmentalists say no to new lignite mines
Eko-svest pointed out coal mining projects are “unacceptable from environmental, energy and economic aspects” and that they are contrary to all strategies and declared commitments of North Macedonia.
“After the Živojno lignite mine was included in the list of submitted projects for the Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans, the first assumption was that it was an unintentional mistake and a remnant of some old plans dating back to before the 2040 Energy Development Strategy,” the environmentalist group said.
Eko-svest: The first assumption was that it was an unintentional mistake and a remnant of some old plans dating back to before the 2040 Energy Development Strategy
Eko-svest added ESM has also conducted several tenders since 2019 for the preparation of documentation for the mines.
The environmentalists pointed out that such actions in the energy sector are unacceptable – regardless of whether the announcement is an independent initiative of ESM or coordinated with the government and the Ministry of Economy.
“It is one thing to turn to emergency imports of coal to tackle the energy crisis for a number of months, but quite another to completely undermine all attempts at energy transition and just transition. Opening a new mine will only worsen the situation,” said Nevena Smilevska from Eko-svest.
Contrary to plans
All this is occurring at a time when planning documents are being developed and adopted for an accelerated energy transformation and the reduction of fossil fuel use – which set the country as a leader within the Energy Community in terms of plans for transformation of the energy sector, environmentalists stressed.
Pehčevski: There is no justifiable reason to spend time, capacity, and finances on projects that will take the country many steps back.
“All investments in the energy sector that will be undertaken from today on must be in accordance with the obligations of the strategies and international agreements,” said Davor Pehčevski from Eko-svest. He added there is no justifiable reason to waste time, capacities, and finances on projects that would set the country many steps back and continue endangering the environment and the population.
It is necessary to work on a just transition and gradual reduction of personnel in lignite mines, not to open new mines, Eko-svest added, Balkan Green Energy News reports.
Locals don’t trust mining companies
Only red-roofed houses interrupt the vast carpet of fields that surround the village of Gornje Nedeljice, in western Serbia. To resident Marijana Petković, this is the most beautiful place in the world. She’s not against Europe’s green transition, the plan to make the bloc’s economy climate neutral by 2050. But she is among those who believe Serbia’s fertile Jadar Valley—where locals grow raspberries and keep bees—is being asked to make huge sacrifices to enable other countries to build electric cars.
Around 300 meters away from Petković’s house, according to the multinational mining giant Rio Tinto, there is enough lithium to create 1 million EV batteries, and the company wants to spend $2.4 billion to build Europe’s biggest lithium mine here. But Petković and other locals oppose the project, arguing it will cause irreparable damage to the environment. When asked about that claim, a spokesperson for Rio Tinto told Wired that throughout the project, the company has “recognized that Jadar will need to be developed to the highest environmental standards.” Petković is not convinced. “I want the western countries to have the green transition and to live like people in Jadar,” she says. “But that doesn’t mean that we need to destroy our nature.”
Officially, the Jadar mine is not happening. After months of protests against the project, the government conceded, and in January it was canceled. “As far as Project Jadar is concerned, this is an end,” Serbian prime minister Ana Brnabić said on January 20, after Rio Tinto’s lithium exploration licenses were revoked.
There is widespread suspicion, however, that the project was canceled to stop protests overshadowing the presidential and parliamentary elections on April 3, and could restart if the government is reelected. “This might have been a pre-election ploy,” says Florian Bieber, a professor of southeast European history and politics at Austria’s University of Graz. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the government picks up this issue again once the elections are done, because they see the economic benefits.” A Rio Tinto shareholder expressed a similar expectation to Reuters, adding they expect the mine to be renegotiated after the vote. Rio Tinto denies this is its intention and says it has not planned or implemented any activities contrary to the project’s legal status.
Europe has big plans to phase out fossil-fuel cars. In July, the European Union proposed a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2035. The bloc wants to replace those cars with electric vehicles, built with locally produced raw materials like lithium. The top lithium producers are currently Australia, Chile, and China. But Europe has ambitions to produce more of the materials it needs for electric cars at home. These materials “are extremely expensive to ship and are transported across the world several times over,” says Emily Burlinghaus, a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies in Germany. “So it’s much cheaper and much safer to have these operations close to battery manufacturing plants or auto manufacturing plants.”
In the years that followed, activists say, Rio Tinto employees made an effort to immerse themselves in village life. They turned up to villagers’ weddings and celebrated religious holidays with them. Adverts were also beamed onto local TVs telling villagers if they work with Rio Tinto, together they could save the planet.
Relations with locals were good in these years, according to Petković, who is a member of the local campaign group Ne Damo Jadar. The villagers weren’t too worried when Rio Tinto said it wanted to build a modest mine on just 20 hectares. “They said it is going to be a modern mine that will not damage nature,” Petković says. But last year, locals discovered that plans for their village had drastically changed. Rio Tinto wanted to build on 600 hectares, nearly the size of 10,000 tennis courts.
“We started to fight against the mine when they found out the company was lying to us for 14 years; when we found out how big the mine really is,” says Petković. Environmental concerns also started to emerge.
The Guardian obtained a study, funded by Rio Tinto, which outlined how the mine would cause irreversible changes to ecosystems and local rivers. The study recommended “the abandonment of planned exploitation and processing of the mineral jadarite.”
It was at this point that local anger toward Rio Tinto ignited national frustration toward Serbia’s relationship with foreign mining companies. Investors are drawn to the small country because it borders the EU but does not have the same strict regulations, says Bieber.
In April, thousands of people took part in protests in the capital Belgrade that became known as Serbia’s “environmental uprising.” Those protests continued on and off through the rest of the year. The movement “is not about one company,” says Žaklina Živković, an activist with the Right to Water initiative, adding that the government plans to open 40 mines in the next 15 years, including seven lithium mines. “Rio Tinto is a metaphor for all of the different investors and all the mines that are being planned in Serbia,” Živković says.
Arriving soon after a year marked by protests, this weekend’s election was supposed to be the breakthrough movement for Serbia’s environmentalists, says Engjellushe Morina, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “Just as we were expecting that there will be a bit of a win for environmentally friendly movements in Serbia, we have the Russia debate,” she says, referring to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
She believes the return of war to Europe has empowered the ruling coalition parties and the incumbent president, Aleksandar Vučić. The ruling coalition which approved the mine, led by president Vučić’s Serbian Progressive Party, was comfortably leading in polls as of Thursday.
Back in the village of Gornje Nedeljice, Petković has the sense that Rio Tinto is not worried about the election’s outcome. She believes the company has invested too much to stop, whatever the result. The miner has created its own technology to extract the jadarite, which is found nowhere else in the world. Since the government canceled the project, Petković says, there have been no signs Rio Tinto is preparing to leave. The machinery stayed, and the miner kept buying up local real estate, she claims.
On March 30 another activist organization, Marš sa Drine, published the details of a phone call that they claim proves Rio Tinto is preparing to restart work on the mine after the election. The phone call was between a University of Belgrade professor involved in the Rio Tinto project and an anonymous source impersonating an employee of Rio Sava, Rio Tinto’s Serbian subsidiary. In the conversation, the two discuss the arrival of equipment from the German company DMT and an Austrian company called Thyssen, which the professor said is “likely” to arrive in April. Neither DMT, Thyssen, nor the professor replied to WIRED’s request for comment. In a statement, a Rio Tinto spokesperson described the “alleged” recording as “misinformation,” adding that the agreement with the two suppliers was signed before its permission for the mine was withdrawn.
“They lied to us in January,” Marš sa Drine said on Twitter, urging their followers to vote against the project on Sunday. “Why is any equipment, no matter whether it’s a bolt or a bulldozer, being discussed within the context of a project that has been canceled?”
Some believe that Rio Tinto has faced so much opposition in Serbia because of the company’s legacy, associated with multiple cases of environmental damage. “Mining companies have been viewed so negatively historically that it doesn’t matter in the eyes of the public if they are transitioning to minerals that are being used for the energy transition,” says Burlinghaus.
Resistance to EV mining across Europe is not Nimbyism, says Diego Marin, associate policy officer for environmental justice at the NGO the European Environmental Bureau. “Communities are saying, ‘We’re having our areas devastated and sacrificed to make what? Cars for rich people that our communities can never afford,’” he says. “In the end, we pay the price that our air gets cleaner but our land gets poorer.” It’s not that these activists don’t want clean air. But an idea is beginning to spread among green groups in Europe: that the green transition is turning into a capitalism rebrand that is still focused on planet-harming mass production.
“The purpose of the green transition is to make an industrial transition sound like it fits in with a solution to a problem that cannot be solved through industry,” says Bojana Novakovic, an activist with Marš sa Drine and also an actress.
Officials have tried to reassure Europeans that this is a new era of mining. “Mining in the past was a very dirty operation,” said Peter Handley, head of the European Commission’s raw materials unit, speaking at a conference on “green” mining in Lisbon last year. “It is becoming highly technological these days.”
But Europe’s environmentalists are divided on whether “green” mining is possible, even by new companies that are untarnished by their history. “I don’t care whether Mother Teresa wants to extract lithium from the Jadar Valley; she wouldn’t be doing it on my watch,” says Novakovic. “There is no green way to extract lithium from fertile soil. Period. It has never been done before”, Wired writes.
Rio Tinto faced a rude shock
On the face of it, there seems to be little in the way of connection between the treatment of Novak Djokovic by Australian authorities and the cooling of the Serbian government towards Rio Tinto. The Anglo-Australian mining giant was confident that it would, at least eventually, win out in gaining the permissions to commence work on its US$2.4 billion lithium-borates mine in the Jadar Valley.
In 2021, Rio Tinto stated that the project would “scale up [the company’s] exposure to battery materials, and demonstrate the company’s commitment to investing capital in a disciplined manner to further strengthen its portfolio for the global energy transition.”
The road had been a bit bumpy, including a growing environmental movement determined to scuttle the project. But the ruling coalition, led by the Serbian Progressive Party, had resisted going wobbly on the issue.
Then came the maligning of the world number one tennis player in Australia. Djokovic had been tormented by a brief spell of confinement in quarters normally reserved for refugees kept in indefinite detention, and eventually defeated in the Full Court of the Federal Court. During the course of events, he saw his visa cancelled twice, first by a member of the Australian Border Force, the next time by Immigration Minister Alex Hawke. Along the way, lynch mobs were thrilled that “Novaxx” Djokovic, that great threat to Australia’s vaccinated innocence, was finally on a flight home.
The Serbian government attempted to intervene. President Aleksander Vučić made a plea to the Morrison government to resist cancelling Djokovic’s visa; the Australian Open was the Serbian tennis player’s favourite tournament, one he had won numerous times.
A diplomatic incident, more murmur than bark, was sparked. “In line with all standards of international public law, Serbia will fight for Novak Djokovic,” promised the Serbian premier. But for an Australian government that has flouted international law and fetishized border control, the call mattered little.
In Serbia, Rio Tinto then faced a rude shock. The Vučić government, having praised the potential of the Jadar project for some years, abruptly abandoned it. “All decisions (connected to the lithium project) and all licenses have been annulled,” Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić stated flatly on January 20. “As far as project Jadar is concerned, this is an end.”
Branabić insisted, somewhat disingenuously, that this decision merely acknowledged the will of voters. “We are listening to our people and it is our job to protect their interests even when we think differently.”
This is a bit rich coming from a government hostile to industry accountability and investment transparency. The same government also decided to begin infrastructure works on the jadarite mine before the granting of an exploitation permit. Such behaviour has left advocates such as Savo Manojlović of the NGO Kreni-Promeni wondering why Rio Tinto was singled out over, for instance, Eurolithium, which was permitted to dig in the environs of Valjevo in western Serbia.
Zorana Mihajlović, Serbia’s mining and energy minister, preferred to blame the environmental movement, though the alibi seemed a bit forced. “The government showed it wanted the dialogue … (and) attempts to use ecology for political purposes demonstrate they (green groups) care nothing about the lives of the people, nor the industrial development.”
Rio Tinto had been facing an impressive grass roots militia, mobilised to remind Serbians about the devastating implications of proposed lithium mining operations. The Ne damo Jadar (We won’t let anyone take Jadar) group has unerringly focused attention on the secret agreements reached between the mining company and Belgrade. Zlatko Kokanović, vice president of the group, is convinced that the mine would “not only threaten one of Serbia’s oldest and most important archaeological sites, it will also endanger several protected bird species, pond terrapins, and fire salamander, which would otherwise be protected by EU directives.”
Taking issue with the the unflattering environmental record of the Anglo-Australian company, numerous protests were organised and petitions launched, including one that has received 292,571 signatures. Last month, activists organised gatherings and marches across the country, including road blockades.
Djokovic has not been immune to the growing green movement, if only to lend a few words of support. In a December Instagram story post featuring a picture of anti-mining protests, he declared that, “Clean air, water and food are the keys to health. Without it, every word about health is redundant.”
Rio Tinto’s response to the critics was that of the seductive guest keen to impress: we have gifts for the governors, the rulers and the parliamentarians. Give us permission to dig, and we will make you the envy of Europe, green and environmentally sound ambassadors of the electric battery and car revolution.
The European Battery Alliance, a group of electric vehicle supply chain companies, is adamant that the Jadar project “constituted an important share of potential European domestic supply.” The mine would have “contributed to support the growth of a nascent industrial battery-related ecosystem in Serbia, contributing to a substantial amount to Serbia’s annual GDP.” Assiduously selective, the group preferred to ignore the thorny environmental implications of the venture.
The options facing the mining giant vary, none of which would appeal to the board. In a statement, the company claimed that it was “reviewing the legal basis of this decision and the implications for our activities and our people in Serbia.” It might bullyingly seek to sue Belgrade, a move that is unlikely to do improve an already worn reputation. “For a major mining company to sue a state is very unusual,” suggests Peter Leon of law firm Herbert Smith Freehills. “A claim under the bilateral treaty is always a last resort, but not a first resort.”
Another option for punters within the company will be a political gamble: hoping that April’s parliamentary elections will usher in a bevy of pro-mining representatives. By then, public antagonism against matters Australian will have dimmed. The Serbian ecological movement, however, is unlikely to ease their campaign. The age of mining impunity in the face of popular protest has come to an end.
Rio Tinto is on rocky ground in Serbia at the moment
Australian mining giant Rio Tinto (ASX: RIO) is on rocky ground in Serbia at the moment as continued environmental protests put pressure on the government to suspend its planned $3.34 billion lithium mine.
The development is part of Serbia’s efforts to introduce investment and boost economic growth, but activists have staged protests and blocked roads including in the capital of Belgrade. The protestors not only want to ban lithium extraction by Rio, but any other company.
On Saturday, international reports quoted Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic as saying the government was close to accepting all requests from environmentalists and may soon decide to annul all contracts related to the US$2.4 billion (A$3.34 billion) project.
“We have worked in a transparent way, we have listened to the people,” Ms Brnabic said.
Land allocation scrapped last month
Rio is proposing to develop the lithium and borate mine near Loznica in the western Jadar Valley, but the local municipality scrapped a plan to allocate land for it a few weeks ago.
At the time, international reports quoted the chief executive officer of Rio’s Serbian arm Rio Sava Exploration, Vesna Prodanovic, as saying a pause will enable the company to engage in a public dialogue about the project in a bid to “reconsider and possibly improve” technical solutions for the mine.
Despite Rio stating any development would meet all domestic and European Union environmental standards, green groups continue to say the project will cause irreparable damage to the area.
The protests are also problematic for President Aleksandar Vucic ahead of April elections. Mr Vucic has repeatedly declared that opening the mine would depend on the outcome of an environmental study and a referendum.
Rio Tinto to acquire Argentinian lithium project
The green pushback in Serbia isn’t stopping the major miner from pursuing other international lithium opportunities, with the company announcing its intention to buy the Rincon lithium project in Argentina for $825 million.
Last month, Rio entered into a binding agreement to acquire the project from Rincon Mining, a company owned by funds managed by the private equity group Sentient Equity Partners.
Rincon is a large, undeveloped lithium brine project located in the ‘lithium triangle’ in Argentina’s Salta province. The project is regarded as a long-life, scalable resource capable of producing battery-grade lithium carbonate and Rio claims it has the potential to have “one of the lowest carbon footprints in the industry”.
“This acquisition is strongly aligned with our strategy to prioritise growth capital in commodities that support decarbonisation and to continue to deliver attractive returns to shareholders,” Rio chief executive officer Jakob Stausholm said.
Once acquired, Rio plans to firm up a JORC compliant resource for the project and undertake work to determine strategy and timing and secure updates to existing environmental impact assessment permits to allow development and production.
The project is currently held through an Argentine branch of an Australian company and as such, completion of the transaction is conditional upon approval by Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB). The acquisition is expected to be completed in the first half of 2022.
Europe must start mining again
A ramp up of the supply of critical raw materials (CRMs) is essential for the world’s energy transition. Wind and solar, batteries, digitalisation, transport and hydrogen cannot meet their targets without it. The EU defines 30 minerals as critical. To give one example, the global deficits in lithium supplies could surge more than 60-fold to 950,000 tons by 2030. Frank Umbach at EUCERS takes a thorough look at the issue. Europe represented just 5% of global mining in 2020 and is the only region in the world with a declining mining industry. Europe’s dependence on imports makes it vulnerable to economic and geopolitical shocks and rivalries. At present, China provides 98% of the EU’s supply of rare earth elements (REEs) and around 62% for all its defined 30 CRMs. Recycling and import diversification is needed but can only have a limited effect. Umbach says that’s why the EU needs to support domestic mining, processing, and refining capacities as part of its “Open Strategic Autonomy” plan, aimed at addressing these issues. Umbach points at the Norwegian “Bjerkreim Exploration Project” which sits on more than 70bn tons of mineralised rock and might turn out to be one of the world’s most significant deposits of vanadium, titanium, and phosphate. Though some NGOs and Green parties oppose mining, European operations will have much lower eco-footprints that exporting countries with weak regulations. If CRMs are to become the “new oil”, Europe must be ready for that.
During the last months, local and regional protests against the permitting of foreign mineral exploitation have widened in Serbia and Spain. In Serbia, the protests of environmental NGOs and other population groups are directed against Rio Tinto’s Jadar lithium project and Zijin Mining’s recently opened Cukara Pekki copper and gold mine. The protesters fear a pollution of land and water, though their protests are also fuelled against a populist rule of an increasingly autocratic government in Serbia.
In Spain, in the vicinity of the medieval town of Caceres and in the Canaveral district, foreign investors have also to cope with protests and environmental concerns against the opening of two of Europe’s largest future lithium mines alongside of a new industrial infrastructure across the region of Extremadura, which also includes battery cell and cathode factories.
Clashing with environmentalism
These new European projects benefit from unprecedented EU funding to develop new raw material mines and supply chains in order to reduce the EU’s rapidly rising dependence on critical raw materials (CRMs) and battery supply chains from China and Asia.
The protests highlight a growing dilemma for the EU as well as for many environmental groups and NGOs: a growing conflict of competing objectives between local and regional environmental interests on one side and the need for global climate change mitigation and decarbonivation efforts on the other side.
A faster decarbonisation in Europe and the world demands a rapidly increasing mining of CRMs for renewable energy sources (such as wind and solar power) and many digitalisation technologies to enhance energy conservation and efficiency of the future electricity demand in all industries and high-tech sectors (including the European defence, air, and space industries). With the electrification of the European transport sector and energy intensive industries using green hydrogen (based on electrolysis), the future EU electricity demand might even double by 2050 according to new analyses of the European Commission.
In this light and given the rising geo-economic and geopolitical competition with China and the EU’s dependence on ever growing imports of CRMs and refined products (such as magnets for windmills) from China, the EU has enhanced its raw material policies to a core issue in its industrial as well as energy and climate policies due to the European Green Deals’ targets for emissions, the expansion of renewables and electromobility.
Recycling, diversification of import sources, European mining
The EU also wants to reduce its CRMs demand growth by introducing a circular economy with much more recycling and re-use of CRMs, diversify its imports and expand its domestic mining in Europe.
Many environmental groups are not only against fossil fuels, but also against raw material mines and believe that future recycling and re-use of CRMs alone can balance off the CRMs mining and supply demand growth. However, that appears completely unrealistic at least in the next decade as recycling and re-use as well as other alternative options to reduce the demand and imports of CRMs all face numerous challenges and constraints.
Furthermore, larger amounts of replaced batteries, solar cells and wind turbines will become available only after 2030. While the introduction of a circular economy is of the utmost important for both climate and industrial as well as supply security reasons, it won’t be a ‘silver bullet’-solution for the rapidly growing European demand of CRMs and its related supply security risks during the next decade.
In this context, the protests of environmental NGOs and others also overlook the geo-economic and geopolitical developments and the inherent risks for Europe’s industries and future key economic growth sectors. In combination, the political blockade of European mining projects of CRMs even threatens the EU’s own energy and climate targets of the European Green Deal (EGD) as a pre-condition of the global climate policies and its 1.5°C target and will only lead to higher global emissions.
Chinas dominates the world’s supply of CRMs
Since the spring of 2021, Beijing has considered new export controls of its rare earths elements (REEs) and semi-finalised products such as magnets, which are particularly important for the defence and renewable industries. China had already increased its production quota for these CRMs by almost 30 percent up to 140,000 tons (from 100,000 tons) under its five-year plan through 2020. Beijing seeks to adopt defensive measures against new US trade sanctions but also to cope with its rapidly rising demand of high-tech products (such as electric vehicles and renewables) which all need rare earths and other CRMs. By 2030, the rare earths production needs to increase from its present 167,000 tons up to 280,000 tons.
China already threatened the US with export restrictions on rare earths in May 2019 due to the escalating trade conflict with the Trump-administration. In 2010, China had stopped its REEs exports to Japan amidst a diplomatic conflict with Tokyo over maritime territories with oil and gas resources in the East China Sea. At that time, China enjoyed a worldwide production and refining monopoly on REEs for 95%.
Rare earths are just one example how Chinas dominates the world’s supply of CRMs. At present, Chinese companies control up to almost 80% of the worldwide REEs production, more than 90% of its refining processes, around 80% of global refined cobalt production, and more than 60% of the worldwide lithium-ion manufacturing capacity. China is the only superpower which has positioned itself strongly throughout the entire clean tech supply chains based on CRMs. In 2018, the European Commission’s Vice-President Maros Sefcovic in 2018 already warned that CRMs may become the “new oil”. It highlighted the future geo-economic and geopolitical challenges of the EU’s raw material supply.
In contrast to Western government policies and their defined short-term priorities in economic decision-making, China’s political and economic policies are guided by long-term thinking and strategic concepts such as the strategic control of the most important supply chains for disruptive technologies and related CRMs. China’s leader and reformer Deng Xiaoping already stated in 1992: “The Middle East has oil, China has rare earths.” From the mid-1980s to early 2000, China artificially deflated the cost of REE exploration and production so that Western companies and mines had to close. Since then, they have dominated global REEs production also due to its tolerance towards highly polluting, low-cost mining of REEs.
When Beijing had widened is export restrictions to the US and the EU in 2010, the question of supply security of REEs and other CRMs was addressed on the highest political agenda of the US and EU. But after 2012 when the prices of CRMs were falling again, Western concerns on a stable supply of CRMs disappeared again from the governments’ strategic agendas.
In 2015, China’s industrial strategy ‘Made in China 2025’ called to Chinese companies to ensure 70% of the components and materials being used should be sourced domestically by 2025. In April 2020, President Xi Jinping called for the need to enhance the dependence of the Western countries’ global supply chains on China and, simultaneously, “develop powerful retaliation and deterrence capabilities against supply cut-offs by foreign parties”. In December 2021, Xi Jinping demanded to ensure China’s self-sufficiency in key commodities, including energy and minerals to prepare for the changing international relations as part of the country’s long-term agenda and its ”comprehensive conservation strategy” .
China’s global mining strategy
Since 2021, amid the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic and worsening global shortages as well as surging raw material prices, China has intensified its acquisitions of new CRM mines around the world for ensuring and controlling access of new lithium and other CRM deposits.
Due to the global demand growth for electromobility and batteries for vehicles and other energy storage needs, the global deficits in lithium supplies could surge more than 60-fold to 950,000 tons in 2030. It could threaten the acceleration of the worldwide energy transition and decarbonisation.
China is also willing and has partly been forced to pursue ventures and less profitable FDI-projects for enhancing its geo-economic autarky and self-sufficiency, which Western companies and governments perceive as politically and financially too risky. Thus, Chinese companies are also interested at Afghanistan’s untapped mineral abundance, including its estimated vast reserves of copper and lithium. The Taliban – being blocked by Western countries to use its foreign currency reserves in international banks – have presently hardly any other choice than to deepen and expand its political-economic ties with China. New value estimates of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth run high up to US$3 trillion and may rising further with the global demand growth and skyrocketing prices. Afghanistan has even been called the ‘Saudi Arabia of lithium’ because its estimated lithium reserves could be worth solely US$1 trillion and be as large as Bolivia’s, home of the world’s largest reserves.
China’s interest at Afghanistan’s risky mineral resources have been highlighted by a recent warning of the Chinese embassy in Kabul towards Chinese mining companies in December against “blindly” organising inspection trips to Afghan mining sites, thereby ignoring regulations and the need for permits for examining its mineral resources. For China, it offers the perspective to expand its global dominance of the world’s most important CRM supply chains and reduce its dependence on more vulnerable maritime supply routes for its CRM imports from Africa, Latin America, and Australia. Having already invested in Afghanistan’s mining sector during the last decade, a Chinese control of Afghanistan’s CRMs could make the EU even more dependent on China in its struggling efforts for securing its future raw material supply.
The EU’s “Open Strategic Autonomy” plan
The worldwide energy transition and decarbonisation have fuelled a global race for the most advanced technologies, and a stable supply of CRMs for them. The worldwide decarbonisation of the global energy sector and economy with a shift to cleaner energy may create a multi-decade commodity (super)cycle and increase the global geo-economic competition and geo-political rivalries. The EU’s strategic objectives of its EGD and the further expansion of renewables can only be realised with a rising use and a reliable supply of CRMs. But the EU competes with a rising global demand alongside the worldwide expansion of renewables, digital technologies, and artificial intelligence as well as other high-tech industries.
Only 9% of the EU’s overall raw material demand can be supplied by the EU-27 itself. Europe represents just 5% of global mining in 2020 and is the only region in the world with a declining mining industry. At present, China provides 98% of the EU’s supply of REEs, and around 62% for all its defined 30 CRMs as of 2020.
Its demand for lithium will grow 18 times and cobalt 5 times by 2030 and respectively 60 times and 15 times by 2050. Demand for rare earths could increase 10-fold by 2050 and cobalt a demand growth by 500% by 2030 and 15 times by 2050. Despite creating a circular economy with expanded recycling capacities and European production as well as refinement capacities, they won’t be sufficient to guarantee a sufficient stable supply for the EU industries.
Covid pandemic: a wake-up call
The EU’s dependence on critical supply chains have been highlighted after the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic when the global just-in-time supply chains had not been able, flexible, and fast enough to provide sufficient medical equipment, basic medicines, and CRMs in time due to sudden global demand, nationalist export restrictions and broken value chains.
Since that time, detailed analyses of major supply chains and the EU’s dependencies on critical supplies have been conducted with the conclusions of a greater “open strategic autonomy” and relocating some critical supply chains (including mining as well as refining capacities) to Europe for diversifying supplies and technologies as well as for strengthening Europe’s resiliency of supply chain security. In the EU’s understanding, “strategic autonomy” does not mean complete self-sufficiency or economic protectionism by isolating itself from the world. It rather means having alternatives, competition, and avoiding “unwanted dependencies both economically and geopolitically” as outlined in the EU’s new “action plan” for CRM supply security of September 2020.
The EU’s rising geo-economic concerns have also been reflected in its list of CRMs, which is being updated every 3 years. The number of CRMs has constantly risen from 14 CRMs in 2011 to 20 in 2014, 27 in 2017 and 30 in 2020.
Creating and supporting domestic mining, processing, and refining capacities
By developing and expanding European mining of CRMs whilst diversifying its imports, the Commission hopes to become 80% self-sufficient on lithium by 2025 and have its own rare earths mining as well as refining capacity ready by 2030. While the EU and Europe have lithium, borate, and even REEs, hardly any of the newly identified and potential mining projects is likely to enter production in the next three years for various reasons. And even then, for at least some of its CRMs, the EU will still lack its own abundant mineral deposits. But the commerciality of domestic mining projects in Europe can change as it depends on its policies, regulatory frameworks, financial support and global price developments.
Compared with the lack of public acceptance in Serbia and Spain, a more positive example can be seen in the Norwegian “Bjerkreim Exploration Project” of the UK based exploration company Norge Mining plc. and its spectacular find. It contains more than 70bn tons of mineralised rock and might be one of the world’s most significant deposits of the CRMs vanadium, titanium, and phosphate. The find also highlights the global significance of Norway’s untapped mineral resources can play a future key role in the supply of the EU’s CRM supplies, depending on the political and public support by the Norwegian and EU governments.
Recognising and addressing new conflicts of interests and strategic objectives
The EU’s new raw material strategy has also emphasised the need to enhance sustainability in the light of the EGD with a greater attention of the ecological footprint of mining, refinement (“sustainable mining”) and end products.
In principle, domestic mining of raw materials – in compliance with of adequate environmental regulations and ‘life cycle analyses’ – would significantly emit less greenhouse gas emissions than mining projects outside Europe, which are mostly less environmentally regulated (resulting in much higher emissions). Additionally, they must be imported via longer distances of transport, which produces higher emissions in combination with their extraction. According to a study of the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber, 1 ton of additional emissions in Europe resulting from increasingly intermediate European products leads to average global savings of 1.24 tons of CO2 equivalent in all material sectors. Other research analyses suggest that each ton of metal Europe produces emits up to 8 times less carbon than its equivalent from China.
In this regard, a new conflict of interests and strategic objectives is mounting in the EU member states. It might be particularly challenging for NGOs and Green parties as they need to decide what is more important for them: local nature and environmental protection or effective and sustainable global climate mitigation efforts. The decarbonisation of the world’s energy system as a pre-condition of mitigating global climate change won’t be realised without a decrease of imports and increasing domestic mining, refining and processing of CRMs. Neither the creation of a circular economy nor any other single measure alone will offer a ‘silver bullet’-solution to the rising demand of CRMs and achieving the EGD emissions’ target.
The present worldwide magnesium shortage due to production curbs in China (having a near monopoly on the global magnesium market) has just highlighted Europe’s and the world’s overdependence on just one supplier and the Western neglect of diversification efforts. It is an essential raw material for aluminium alloys being used for almost everything.
As the EU’s demand for certain CRMs might grow by a factor of 20 by 2030, the need for developing resilient value chains (including for renewables, batteries, and other disruptive technologies), resource efficiency, recycling, re-use, repair, substitution, and the use of secondary sources (as part of its future ‘circular economy’) will play an ever more important role in the future. However, the options of recycling, re-use and substitution also have their own constraints because some CRMs cannot be recycled technically or are presently not commercially profitable.
In addition, the supply and value chains of CRMs are not fully and homogeneously covered by European industry. Moreover, opening new mines and refining capabilities around the world require lead times of at least 7 years internationally, in Western countries even 10-20 years. Facing mounting public acceptance challenges in many OECD countries, it has become ever more challenging to find private investors for those long-term mining projects in Europe.
While a complete ’strategic autonomy’ is neither realistic nor desirable, a diversification of supplies and imports of CRMs is needed particularly in the mid- and longer-term perspective. It includes the expansion of domestic mining, processing, and refining capacities in Europe for reducing its imports and unwanted geopolitical dependencies as well as for lowering global climate emissions.
For implementing and realising these strategic objectives, political leadership, guidance, and adequate political support as well as public communication strategies for European mining projects of CRMs, including in Norway, will become ever more important in the forthcoming years as otherwise the EU won’t realise its agreed emission target of -55 percent and decarbonisation pathway by 2030.
How much has Rio Tinto invested in Serbia so far and why is it “pumping” costs
The management of “Rio Tinto” points out that the “Jadar” project is transparent, but the exact amount of funds, intended for lithium and pine mining and mine start-up, has not been published, although according to the submitted study it can be concluded that the budget was prepared in advance.
Miroslav Mijatović, from the Podrinje Anti-Corruption Team (PAKT), notes for “Nova” that the main question is why “Rio Tinto” hides the costs of previous investments and that there is a real fear that the costs will be artificially increased to add value to the project.
In the period from 2004 to 2020, “Rio Tinto” invested 209.1 million US dollars in the costs of field geological works, according to the documents of this company, obtained by the daily “Nova”.
– What is worrying is the data from the Elaborate, from which it can only be concluded that the final investment figure of “Rio Tinta” is slightly more than 200 million dollars. However, we have heard that over 450 million euros have been invested this year alone, although no work has been done on the ground throughout the year – warns Mijatović.
– In the study, almost all data on investments are obscured. There is a real fear that “Rio Tinto” will “wake up” investments, because the ore rent for lithium and boron is charged in the amount of five percent of net income – our interlocutor explains and adds that it is realistic to imagine a situation in which “Rio Tinto” will not show actual profits until the investment pays off.
According to earlier announcements from this company about the amount of lithium and boron production, Serbia would receive about seven million euros a year, along with 23 million, which would follow from the profit tax.
Commenting on the mentioned data, Mijatović states that, in the best scenario, Serbia will remain without ore rent for at least five years.
In a statement given last Monday, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic pointed out that the “Jadar” project would not be withdrawn.
“That project is standing still and will not move anywhere. They brought him, and we did everything that the people asked for, and that’s it, “he said, without explaining why, although it is a request of the citizens, the state is not giving up on this project.
Lack of information and insufficient transparency, ie vagueness of the top of the state and the management of the company “Rio Tinto”, contributed to the debate in which the question dominates whether the government does not give up the “Jadar” project, due to possible penalties that Serbia would pay.
On the other hand, Mijatović points out that he is convinced that the citizens of Serbia will not return the money to “Rio Tinta”, and that it is unbelievable that compensation for damage is being mentioned now.
– Now some bilateral agreements are mentioned, and “Rio Tinto” persistently hides costs from the public. I would rather say that someone individually promised help to this company and took money for it. If you take a good look, you will see that the laws in the last 15 years have been compared because of them – concludes Mijatović.
A study on the resources and reserves of boron and lithium in the Jadar deposit near Loznica, prepared by Rio Tinto and adopted by the Ministry of Mining and Energy on January 6 this year, states that this multinational company has invested more than $ 200 million to cover the costs of field geological works, which include exploratory drilling for all programs, laboratory analysis, testing, as well as the costs of the project team and study work.
Although this document shows how much has been invested so far in geological research and that there is a predetermined figure for exploitation, “Rio Tinto” has not yet disclosed data on how much money is intended for exploitation.
Where is the cost of mining circuit infrastructure
“Capital costs of exploitation consist of the costs of mining works, the costs of mining infrastructure and facilities on the surface. The latter include facilities, installations and works on the surface of the terrain that are not covered by the costs of exploitation, ie preparation of mineral raw materials. “These are costs for the construction of mining facilities, such as offices, bathrooms, workshops, internal roads and other infrastructure on the surface of the terrain that is not included in other cost items,” the Rio Tinto document states.
Irish women protected gold ores in Ireland’s ground
Around the world women are on the frontlines of the fight against extractivism. In Ireland, women are a vital component of these struggles. These land defenders are taking on leadership roles as well as less visible roles that sustain movements, such as critical domestic and administrative tasks. The women are from all walks of life, from artists, house wives, linguists, teachers, lawyers to farmers.
Ireland, North and South, has been identified as a hotspot in the new European mining boom. To date, twenty-seven percent of the south and twenty-five percent of the North has been concessioned for mineral prospecting licences. Divided by a border that water systems, pollutants and the air do not recognise. It is an Island united by the fact that both governments’ neoliberal policies actively invite the interest of the mining industry.
The global gold industry has been a driver of this mining rush, one of the most ecologically and socially destructive industries in the world. From the Sperrins in Counties Tyrone and Derry to Donegal and Connemara, rural communities are being confronted with plans to mine for gold. Most of the interest is coming from Canadian mining corporations.
While the pressing need to decarbonise our economies is often cited as the reason for increased mining around the world, there is often little to no debate on the need to reduce our consumption, particularly in the Global North. It is clear we cannot mine our way out of the climate crisis without sacrificing rural and Indigenous communities.
The Sperrin Mountains are a rolling upland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in Northern Ireland. Here, Dalradian Gold Limited, a Canadian exploration company, has applied to open a large gold mine, close to the village of Greencastle in County Tyrone. In 2017 Dalradian submitted a huge planning application extending to 10,000 pages. They are seeking approval for an underground mine, a 17 storey high waste stack facility, and a processing plant. Opposition is fierce, with 37,000 objection letters lodged to date. This journey has not been easy, with plans dividing the community and earth defenders facing threats and intimidation.
Local communities point out the impacts of such plans are numerous and varied, from biodiversity destruction, air pollution, water contamination, health impacts for local people, and a loss of livelihood and sense of place. Among the ecological impacts of such a project is the threat to tributaries which flow into the transboundary Lough Foyle. The Owenkillew (SAC) and Owenreagh (ASSI) rivers run adjacent to the proposed site. Both are protected as the home to rare freshwater pearl mussels.
Regardless, the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs granted Dalradian permission to discharge effluent into these rivers. In November 2019, Fidelma O’Kane, Save Our Sperrins member, successfully challenged this decision in the High Court.
The South of the Island is also facing the incursions of the global gold mining industry. Conroy Gold have been exploring in County Monaghan, while Arkle Resources, a Canadian company, have two sites in mind- one in Wicklow and one in Inishowen, County Donegal.
Resistance group Save Inishowen have been opposing these plans since the threat emerged in 2016. In Connemara, a Gealtacht (Irish speaking) region, resistance group Protect Connemara has successfully seen off gold prospectors BTU Metals Corp of Vancouver. They petitioned the Government to oppose the plans, highlighting that mining would damage the local economy which relies heavily on tourism and small scale farming. Donegal, The Sperrins and Connemara are all rural landscapes that have faced marginalisation and socio-economic exclusion. However, they are also incredibly rich and ancient landscapes shaped by millennia of culture and tradition. Landscapes which are of immeasurable intrinsic value.
Jacqueline Keenan from Greencastle explains: “People here love their land, there’s just so much history, past generations have suffered so much to hand it to us, and we want to be able to pass it to the next generation intact. There’s a deep down rootedness in us”.
Tactics have ranged from public meetings, judicial reviews, an occupation of Dalradian’s proposed site near Greencastle, as well as in person events and webinars to share experiences and foster solidarity with other frontline communities from Peru, Cyprus, Romania, Colombia to the Lakota Nation.
Resistance is growing across the Island, not only to gold but to a range of mineral prospecting and mining. In February this year a network of community groups was formed with the name CAIM (communities against the injustice of mining).
Rose Kelly from Save Inishowen said: “It’s important this network is formed because we live on a beautiful island and it’s under threat from extractivism. It’s so important that we work together as communities who are on the frontline of this damaging industry.”
“Caim” is a Celtic term, meaning a circle of protection for the more-than-human community of life. It is an ethos embodied by the women striving to keep the gold in the ground.
Portugal is set to cancel a contentious lithium mining project
In the northern Montalegre region in Portugal locals spent years fighting to halt lithium mining project, a cornerstone of Lisbon’s raw materials policy.
“At this moment I see the possibility of having a lithium mine in Montalegre as very unlikely,” João Pedro Matos Fernandes said.
The EU is trying to set up an independent stream of crucial raw materials to ensure it’s not dependent on third countries. It imports almost all of its lithium — a key ingredient in the batteries used to power electric vehicles. The European Commission estimates that demand for lithium will grow 18 times by 2030 and 60 times by 2050. That’s set off a race to open mines in Europe, with projects being eyed in Finland, Spain, Serbia, the Czech Republic and Austria, as well as Portugal.
The Montalegre project’s concession license will be “rejected due to a lack of professionalism” on the part of LusoRecursos, the company awarded a government exploration contract in 2019, Matos Fernandes said. He said the company submitted a “clearly insufficient” environmental impact study, and added that it won’t be long before “that license is completely canceled.”
Informed about the scheme’s impending cancellation, an incredulous LusoRecursos CEO Ricardo Pinheiro said his company would bring a “nice lawsuit in the courts.” The minister’s comments signal the end of one of Lisbon’s signature raw material schemes, just one week before the Portuguese presidency of the Council of the EU hosts a conference on green mining.
The €500 million project aimed to build a massive mining and industrial processing complex in a bucolic corner of northern Portugal bordering the Gerês-Xurés biosphere reserve. It had been strongly opposed by locals for environmental concerns. The scheme involved leveling a mountainous, 825-hectare site, with parts of the new project located just meters from residents’ properties.
LusoRecursos claimed that up to 30 million tons of lithium petalite could be extracted from the site and potentially used to make everything from e-vehicle batteries to storage infrastructure for renewable energy. The company’s bid to survey the area was greenlit over a decade ago, but the idea only started to move in 2019, when the government signed a contract giving LusoRecursos exploration rights.
“The mining project would have destroyed the landscape and made farming here impossible,” said Armando Pinto, coordinator of Montalegre com Vida, the community group that spearheaded opposition to the project.
The region’s traditional farming economy has earned it recognition as a United Nations Globally Important Agricultural Heritage site. Locals like farmer Justino Dias credit this mode of farming — along with a burgeoning rural tourism sector — with stemming the exodus of young people from the area, a serious problem in much of Portugal’s interior. The mining complex “would threaten all of that,” said Dias. The project’s impact on the agricultural sector would also jeopardize local access to the EU farming subsidies that are key to the area’s survival, he added. Pinto said residents were also concerned about the risk to water flows from nearby mountain springs and the possibility that runoff from the complex’s industrial facilities could contaminate the neighboring Alto Rabagão reservoir.
“Most of northern Portugal drinks water that comes from here; it’s shocking that national authorities have even considered this,” he added.
Although protests against the mining project drew national attention, locals say Lisbon failed to listen and allowed the scheme to move forward despite some red flags.
“The central government signed this contract without ever speaking to us,” Pinto said. “We wrote to the president of the republic, we went to parliament, spoke to the parliamentary groups, but no one from the government ever spoke to us.”
LusoRecursos CEO Pinheiro rejected criticism of the Montalegre project, saying it would have revitalized the region, including with a residential development scheme for the highly skilled workers he said would have been employed at the complex.
“I’ve never understood the opposition to this project … There’s been a lot of disinformation,” Pinheiro said. “This is like when people go on Google to look up symptoms to figure out if they have cancer … People find it easier to believe that things are going to be bad.”
The Portuguese government may have given up on the Montealegre project, but another lithium mining scheme in the region is moving forward, according to the Portuguese environment minister. Matos Fernandes confirmed that a bid by U.K.-based commodities group Savannah Resources to develop the 680-hectare Barroso mine project near the village of Boticas is now undergoing a public consultation of its environmental impact study.
“Without being able to predict the results” of the study, Matos Fernandes said he applauded the professionalism of the proposal. “There’s a huge difference between this developer and the lax attitude shown by others.”
But Carlos Leal Gomes, a geologist at the University of Minho, warned that the country may not be seeing much of a lithium boom. “Portugal doesn’t have the lithium resources to justify these kinds of projects right now,” he said. In contrast to the easily processed lithium spodumene deposits found in Australia’s Greenbushes deposit or Brazil’s Minas Gerais region, the lithium petalite found in northern Portugal requires processing that makes it economically uncompetitive, Leal Gomes said.
“What we have are old mines that were used to extract minerals for producing ceramics,” he said. “The owners of the sites are trying to monetize them now, but it isn’t viable … There’s been a lack of serious calculation here.”
Matos Fernandes defended the government’s policy, saying the pandemic had shown that Europe needs to shore up its access to raw materials required for the bloc’s green transition.
“Perhaps your academics haven’t hard of a little thing called COVID … But it’s obvious that we have to shorten production and supply chains,” the minister said.
But the argument that the mine is needed to help the EU’s decarbonization efforts was dismissed by Pinto, the local activist.
“Green mining doesn’t exist,” he said. “Politicians need to stop trying to get rid of pollution in cities by polluting our villages instead.”