Critical raw materials are those economically vital metals, minerals and materials that are essential to the functioning of a wide variety of industrial ecosystems and, therefore present a high supply risk. Regarding this, the new Plan launched by the EU proposes to reinforce the open strategic autonomy of the Old Continent. It warns that the transition to climate neutrality might entail replacing the current dependence on fossil fuels with a dependence on raw materials, which we largely source from abroad, and for which global competition is increasingly fierce.
The reality is that more and more resources (energy, food, and raw materials) are needed, something that is putting the planet under extreme pressure and is generating half of the greenhouse gas emissions and causing more than 90% of the biodiversity loss and water stress.
Therefore, if the objective is to achieve climate neutrality by 2050, it is essential to expand the circular economy and dissociate economic growth from the use of resources, and to keep the latter within the limits of the planet, as the Commission itself reported on 3 August. And this is precisely the aim of the new EU Plan.
A Plan that, for the first time, includes lithium in the list of fundamental raw materials due to its importance for electric mobility. The inclusion of lithium was decided due to the results of a prospective study on the key raw materials for strategic technologies and sectors as of 2030 and 2050.
The transition to a more circular economy could generate a net increase of 700,000 jobs in the EU by 2030
The list contains thirty key raw materials, whose safe and sustainable supply is essential for a resilient economy. For electric car batteries and energy storage alone, Europe will need up to eighteen times more lithium by 2030, and up to sixty times more by 2050. As the prospective analysis shows, the current dependence on fossil fuels cannot be allowed to be replaced by a dependence on key raw materials. This point has been reinforced by the “interruptions” in the strategic value chains as a result of the coronavirus.
The aim is, therefore, to change course from high dependence to a diversified, sustainable, and socially responsible circularity, innovation, and supply.
Circularity of raw materials
Regarding this issue, and in line with the European Green Pact, other actions will address the circularity and sustainability of the raw material value chain. To this end, the Commission will develop sustainable financing criteria for the mining and extractive industries sectors by the end of 2021 at the latest.
The Action Plan for the Circular Economy under the European Green Pact aims to dissociate growth from resource use through sustainable product design and by exploiting the potential offered by secondary raw materials. This means moving towards a more circular economy that could generate a net increase of 700,000 jobs in the EU by 2030. Circularity and recycling of raw materials through the use of low-carbon technologies is an integral part of the transition to a climate-neutral economy.