critical raw materials, sustainable Europe
© Dezzor

The European Commission is introducing an Action Plan on critical raw materials to aid the transition to a more secure and sustainable supply chain

The European Commission have presented an Action Plan on Critical Raw Materials, a 2020 List of Critical Raw Materials and a foresight study on critical raw materials for strategic technologies and sectors from the 2030 and 2050 perspectives.

The Action Plan on Critical Raw Materials (CRM) looks at current and future challenges and proposes actions to reduce Europe’s dependency on third world countries.

It also aims to diversify supply from both primary and secondary sources and improve resource efficiency and while promoting responsible sourcing.

The actions will foster the EU’s transition towards a green and digital economy, and at the same time.

The 2020 List of critical raw materials has been updated to reflect economic importance and their availability. It contains 30 critical raw materials. Lithium, which is essential for a shift to e-mobility, has been added to the list for the first time.

Why critical raw materials are important

  • Non-energy raw materials are linked to all industries across all supply chain stages
  • Technological progress and quality of life rely on access to a growing number of raw materials. For example, a smartphone might contain up to 50 different kinds of metals, all of which contribute to its functionality.
  • Raw materials are closely linked to clean technologies. They are irreplaceable in solar panels, wind turbines, electric vehicles, and energy-efficient lighting.

Maroš Šefčovič, Vice-President for Interinstitutional Relations and Foresight, said: “A secure and sustainable supply of raw materials is a prerequisite for a resilient economy.

“For e-car batteries and energy storage alone, Europe will for instance need up to 18 times more lithium by 2030 and up to 60 times more by 2050.

“As our foresight shows, we cannot allow to replace current reliance on fossil fuels with dependency on critical raw materials. This has been magnified by the coronavirus disruptions in our strategic value chains.

“We will therefore build a strong alliance to collectively shift from high dependency to diversified, sustainable and socially-responsible sourcing, circularity and innovation”.

The Action Plan on Critical Raw Materials is aimed to:

  • Develop resilient value chains for EU industrial ecosystems;
  • reduce Europe’s dependency on primary critical raw materials through circular use of re-sources, sustainable products and innovation;
  • strengthen domestic sourcing of raw materials in the EU;
  • diversify sourcing from third world countries and remove distortions to international trade, fully respecting the EU’s international obligations.

To achieve these objectives, the European Commission has recently outlined ten concrete actions.

First, the Commission will establish a European Raw Materials Alliance. The alliance will primarily focus on the most pressing needs, for example to increase EU resilience in the rare earth and magnet value chains, as this is vital to most of EU industrial ecosystems, such as renewable energy.

To make better use of domestic resources, the Commission will work with member states to identify mining and processing projects in the EU that can be operational by 2025. A special focus will be on coal-mining regions and other regions in transition, with special attention to expertise and skills relevant for mining, extraction and processing of raw materials.

The Commission will promote the use of its earth-observation programme, Copernicus, to improve resource exploration and operations. At the same time, Horizon Europe will support research and innovation, especially on new mining and processing technologies and recycling.

Supporting the European Green Deal

In line with the European Green Deal, other actions will address the circularity and sustainability of the raw materials value chain. The Commission will therefore develop sustainable financing criteria for the mining and extractive sectors by the end of 2021.

The Commission will develop international partnerships to secure the supply of CRM’s not found in Europe. Pilot partnerships with Canada, interested countries in Africa and the EU’s neighbourhood will start as of 2021. In these international cooperation’s, the Commission will promote sustainable and responsible mining practices and transparency.

Countries accounting for the largest share of EU supply of CRMs

critical raw materials
©European Commission

The 2020 list of CRMs should help:

  • Strengthen the competitiveness of European industry in line with the renewed industrial strategy for Europe;
  • stimulate the production of CRMs by enhancing new mining and recycling activities in the EU;
  • foster efficient use and recycling of critical raw materials, a priority area in the EU circular economy action plan;
  • increase awareness of potential raw material supply risks and related opportunities among EU countries, companies and investors;
  • negotiate trade agreements, challenge trade distortion measures, develop research and innovation actions and implement Europe’s 2030 ‘agenda on sustainable development and its sustainable development goals’.

Thierry Breton, Commissioner for Internal Market, commented: “A number of raw materials are essential for Europe to lead the green and digital transition and remain the world’s first industrial continent.

“We cannot afford to rely entirely on third countries – for some rare earths even on just one country. By diversifying the supply from third countries and developing the EU’s own capacity for extraction, processing, recycling, refining and separation of rare earths, we can become more resilient and sustainable.

“Implementing the actions that we propose today will require a concerted effort by industry, civil society, regions and Member States.

“We encourage the latter to include investments into critical raw materials into their national recovery plans.”


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