HOW DOES MINING FOR CRITICAL RAW MATERIALS CAUSE DEFORESTATION?
Critical raw materials - such as cobalt, copper, lithium, nickel and bauxite - will be crucial in the shift to a low carbon digital economy. For example, our increased reliance on batteries to power electric vehicles and other clean energy technologies, is fuelling a boom in demand for the raw minerals used in their production.
Many of these materials are located in highly forested areas, and mining for them is driving deforestation. For example, a recent study found that from 2001-2019, the vehicle, construction, machinery and equipment (such as computers, communications, electronics, cables) sectors accounted for 32% of all mining-related deforestation.
More than half of energy transition minerals’ projects worldwide are located on or near Indigenous and peasant peoples’ lands. Booming commodity demand also often increases corruption, aggravating socio-environmental abuse and worsening inequality.
WHAT ARE THE PROBLEMS WITH THE EU’S DEMAND FOR CRITICAL RAW MATERIALS?
Industries in the European Union (EU) rely heavily on raw material imports to produce their goods. As a result, according to the study hyperlinked above, the EU and the UK are the second biggest drivers of mining related deforestation, after China.
The EU wants to safeguard access to critical raw materials by diversifying and securing its supply chains. It aims to mitigate the risk of its imports being disrupted, reduce its dependence on China in particular, and enhance the ‘sustainability’ of how these materials are produced.
As part of its Critical Raw Material Act, the EU envisions financing Strategic Projects from companies and negotiating Strategic Partnerships with non-EU resource-rich countries, focusing on extraction, processing or recycling. The sustainability criteria for these projects and partnerships are too weak. This risks exacerbating human rights violations, increasing environmental damage, undermining development and circumventing democratic participation in third countries, as no role is foreseen for civil society to have a say in decisions concerning the extraction and use of these raw materials.