Sustainable supplies of critical raw materials crucial for EU industry

Source: European Parliament (EP) i, published on Thursday, November 25 2021.

MEPs want Europe to be less dependent on the imports of critical raw materials that are crucial for its strategic industries.

To become climate neutral, energy-efficient and more competitive in the digital age, the EU will need more critical raw materials such as lithium and cobalt to manufacture batteries and electric engines. These technologies allow for the development of strategic sectors: renewable energy, electric cars, and digital technologies.

Global supply chains that were already stretched have been hit further by the Covid-19 pandemic, leading to shortages of critical raw materials in Europe and leaving the industry facing challenges in securing access to resources.

Reversing EU dependence on imports

The EU faces bottlenecks and vulnerabilities along the supply chain due to its heavy reliance on imports from single sources. For example, China accounts for 98% of the EU’s supply of rare earth elements, Turkey 98% of borate supplies and South Africa 71% of the EU’s platinum needs.

In an effort to reverse this dependence, MEPs adopted a report in November 2021 asking the European Commission to put forward a comprehensive EU strategy for critical raw materials, based on sustainable sourcing and high environmental, social and human rights standards.

MEPs want the EU to diversify supply sources of critical raw materials and reduce its reliance on a few non-EU countries. The report proposes that the EU strengthens existing partnerships and trade agreements, while exploring options with new countries. It stresses that any agreements must consider the environmental footprint of imports and be responsibly sourced, respecting workers' health and safety, and ensuring decent jobs and working conditions.

Recycling raw materials in the EU

Raw materials can be recycled from older products and are known as secondary raw materials. MEPs want to promote the recycling and recovery of critical raw materials from mining, processing and commercial waste streams to ensure reliable, secure and sustainable access to them. They also want dedicated recycling targets for critical raw materials, with a robust monitoring framework.

In a resolution adopted on 9 February 2021, Parliament called for tighter recycling rules and binding 2030 targets for material use and consumption in reply to the Commission’s Circular Economy Action Plan of March 2020, which aims to make the industry more sustainable by 2050.

Learn more about the importance and benefits of a circular economy

A more comprehensive strategy for critical raw materials would help strengthen the EU's industrial ecosystem and retain jobs in the manufacturing industry.

The raw materials sector provides about 350,000 jobs in the EU and more than 30 million jobs in downstream manufacturing industries that depend on it. Moving towards a more circular economy could create a net increase of 700,000 jobs in the EU by 2030.

Read more about the circular economy

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