Europe needs a huge amount of metals for its energy and digital transitions. How to source them in a responsible way?
About the event:
This online roundtable is invitation-only. You can still contribute to this project by commenting on the online draft text: http://www.metalsforeurope.eu
While the energy from the sun and wind is nearly infinite, the resources we need to capture this energy are not. Solar panels, wind turbines, batteries, and power cables all contain metals. These have to be extracted from ores that are dug up from the ground. Some metals are rare or becoming depleted. Most mining is dirty business.
The climate crisis leaves us no choice but to make a swift transition from fossil fuels to renewable energies. Already, solar and wind power have entered the phase of exponential growth, as have electric vehicles and the batteries that power them. The European Union will need up to 18 times more lithium and 5 times more cobalt in 2030 than it consumes today in total, for electric car batteries and energy storage alone, according to the European Commission. By 2050, we would need almost 60 times more lithium and 15 times more cobalt.
The digital transition, a second spearhead of the EU, also relies on metals. Digitalisation can enhance our quality of life. But all digital technologies require energy and materials. Despite the ethereal metaphor of ‘the cloud’, the data economy has a heavy material footprint, which includes a wide array of metals. Gains in the energy and material efficiency of devices and networks are outpaced by the exponential growth of data use, which doubles every two to three years. European demand for rare earth metals for digital technologies, and for electric cars and wind turbines, could increase tenfold by 2050.
The EU is between 75 and 100 percent dependent on imports for most metals. This creates risks for Europe’s security of supply and for its strategic autonomy. It also raises the issue of climate justice since the greatest burdens of metal mining are falling on the Global South. Therefore, metals might well become the Achilles heel of the energy and digital transitions.
Should we make a more sparing use of joules and bytes to save metals? How do we stop valuable metals from ending up as waste? Can we procure those metals that we really need in a way that is equitable for developing countries and future generations? This project aims to develop an Agenda for Action at all political levels, which charts a course towards a responsible sourcing of metals for a green and digital Europe.
The roundtable will be moderated by Suzanne Kröger, former MP for GroenLinks, Netherlands.
Date and time: Friday 18 June, from 14:00 to 16:00 CEST
This project is organised by the Green European Foundation with the support of Wetenschappelijk Bureau GroenLinks and with the financial support of the European Parliament to the Green European Foundation. The European Parliament is not responsible for the content of this event.
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