In March this year, the European Commission presented the draft for a Critical Raw Materials Act (CRMA), which shall equip the EU with the necessary tools to ensure the EU’s access to a secure and sustainable supply of critical raw materials.

As the coordinator of the Horizon 2020 Project SUMEX, which is about sustainable management of extractive industries in Europe, I have of course been following the development of the CRMA with keen interest and the SUMEX project team has started to look into how project results can support a successful implementation of the CRMA. Here are some of my initial thoughts just by reading through the CRMA summary.

  • The CRMA presents four high level benchmarks of which the first – to have at least 10% of the EU’s annual consumption of mineral raw materials to come from extraction from within the EU – fully links to SUMEX, which is all about more, but sustainable extraction from within the EU.

  • The Act will reduce the administrative burden and simplify permitting procedures for critical raw materials projects in the EU. One of the five focus areas of SUMEX is permitting and over the last three years we have analysed existing policies, by doing deep dives in Sweden and Spain on metallic mining and aggregates. These identified policy deficits (e.g. incoherence of policy goals, low integration of policy goals at lower levels of governance of local and regional policy, inconsistency of public policy and property rights with regards to mineral and other land uses) with regards to nature and biodiversity, water, and indigenous rights. In addition, we collected about 400 good practices concerning permitting from EU projects and industry in our repository that can help policy makers in EU member states to improve their permitting regimes.
  • Selected Strategic Projects will benefit from support for access to finance and shorter permitting timeframes (24 months for extraction permits). Once again, the permitting practices, as well as environmental and social impact assessment and land use practices – other focus areas of SUMEX – can help to improve processes and show good practices that worked somewhere else.
  • The Commission will strengthen the uptake and deployment of breakthrough technologies in critical raw materials. Here the sustainability framework, developed through intensive stakeholder consultation in the project, can guide the way for these breakthrough technologies in terms of sustainability impacts and the leverage points, used to evaluate the sustainability transformation potential of the practices collected, can show the transformation/breakthrough potential.
  • The establishment of a large-scale skills partnership on critical raw materials and of a Raw Materials Academy will promote skills relevant to the workforce in critical raw materials supply chains. The SUMEX MOOC can support this by strengthening the skills of all extractive industry players concerning sustainability (a key concern of Europeans when it comes to mining and quarrying – see the next point below). A second, moderated and free run of the course will start in August and registration is already open. The MOOC will of course use information from our repository, a platform with knowledge on informed decision-making, ie. handbooks, guidance documents, etc. Earlier this year, we started also a so-called Community of Practise on LinkedIn dedicated to sustainable management of extractives, which is also supporting skills development. And of cause, coming from Montanuniversität Leoben, one of the main mineral raw materials related universities in Europe, I am all supportive of such a partnership and a Raw Materials Academy!
  • Improved security and affordability of critical raw materials supplies must go hand in hand with increased efforts to mitigate any adverse impacts, with respect to labour rights, human rights and environmental protection. The sustainability framework provides a detailed roadmap of social, environmental and economic aspects that need to be considered, including descriptions of desirable sustainability-based target conditions.
  • Member States and private operators will have to investigate the potential for recovery of critical raw materials from extractive waste in current mining activities but also from historical mining waste sites. Of cause, the sustainability framework addresses these aspects concerning waste and circularity and practices in our repository show examples of already existing initiatives in this direction.

In the coming months, we will present more detailed analysis results of these connections, so stay connected with us!

Michael Tost, Montanuniversität Leoben, SUMEX project coordinator