What is critical raw mineral mining?

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 minerals?

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. 

What do Fern and our partners want?  

An EU whose demand for minerals doesn’t drive deforestation, but upholds rights and respects the planet’s boundaries. To achieve this, the EU should urgently reduce its consumption of - and dependency on - raw materials through demand-side solutions, such as increased policy incentives and investing in non-motorised ways of transporting goods and people (known as soft mobility). 

As part of its work with the EU Raw Materials NGO Coalition, Fern is calling for companies to have to conduct mandatory social and environmental due diligence for critical raw materials placed on the EU market, and to move beyond ineffective private certification schemes. 

Fern and our partners also monitor and campaign for transparent, inclusive and balanced Strategic Projects and Partnerships with non-EU countries. The EU should involve environmental and human rights-based organisations in these discussions. Indigenous Peoples and local communities should have their right to Free, Prio and Informed Consent respected in mining operations. Partnerships with resources-rich countries must be built on fair negotiation processes, supporting domestic processing and manufacturing industries in order to add value locally. The EU’s Projects and Partnerships should be aligned with relevant international agreements and include robust monitoring and remediation mechanisms.  

What are we doing?  

We work with other NGOs to reduce EU demand for energy and resources, and safeguard against the negative impacts that the soaring demand for critical raw materials has on forests, biodiversity and human rights in third countries or in the EU. 


Read our vision for the fair transition

Read our thoughts on the EU Commission's list of critical materials and its plans for securing access to them. We present its problems and strategies to make this transition fair for people and forests.

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Delve deeper into the topic

In this press release more than 50 organisations share their perspectives on the EU Parliament's vote on the Critical Raw Materials Act, outlining where it is a step forward, and the areas that are still missing.

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Perrine Fournier

Perrine Fournier

Responsable de la campagne Commerce