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Trust and credibility are essential to twenty-first-century mining in Europe

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The EU’s Critical Raw Materials Act is a great start to ensuring a more sustainable supply, but we must address the challenge of public acceptance, Sinead Kaufman writes.

As the EU Raw Materials Week concluded earlier this month, all eyes are on its flagship draft Critical Raw Materials Act.

If adopted as anticipated by the end of this year, it will be the first time in a generation that European policymakers will 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.

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From batteries for electric vehicles to energy storage for renewable energy, critical raw materials (CRMs) are essential minerals increasingly used in new technologies to fight climate change and deliver smarter ways of taking action.

The European Commission also states that they are crucial to forming a strong industrial base, producing a broad range of goods and applications used in everyday life.

From safeguarding the competitiveness of European industry to delivering a more sustainable future, reliable and unhindered 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.

From what we need to what we are prepared to welcome

Europe is vulnerable if it wants to go green and continue to innovate, compete on the global stage, and attract investment.

While consuming 27% of the current global supply of CRMs, Europe only mines an estimated 3% of its current CRM needs.

With global demand expected to increase by as much as 500% by 2050, Europe can no longer rely on imports alone, in an increasingly competitive global marketplace.

Europe cannot continue to outsource its future needs. It must secure shorter and more resilient supply chains and so it must import more, recycle more and extract more of its own resources to meet its anticipated 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.

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 continue to have negative perceptions around mining and the mining sector. What might be of benefit to society in general doesn’t necessarily feel right for those communities who will be impacted.

While we are encouraged by what is in the draft CRM Act, we are at the beginning of a longer journey. 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 electric vehicles a year, the challenges we have faced to become operational have been well publicised.

Working harder to mitigate concerns

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.

We need to build our social license to operate. It will take time before society understands the essential role that mining needs to play in Europe’s sustainable future.

We also accept and understand that our industry has a legacy. We need to help explain things better. We must listen more, and we need to work harder to mitigate any concerns if we want to build trust.

We also accept and understand that our industry has a legacy. We need to help explain things better. We must listen more, and we need to work harder to mitigate any concerns if we want to build trust.

Credibility is dependent upon a transparent and accountable approach to how we engage and share information.

Mining has also changed considerably. Significant investments in new innovations and technologies mean sustainable mining is achievable.

From mining underground to creating a minimum industrial footprint at the surface level, the use of electric transport fleets, reduction in waste and recycling are all examples of better ways of doing things.

The industry needs to prove its worth

This new European policy framework is welcome 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 find and build consensus. As an industry, we need to demonstrate that twenty-first-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: euronews

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