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At Paris summit, EU reaffirms push for critical raw materials

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EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton reaffirmed the Union’s strategy to boost domestic production and diversify supplies of key raw materials during the first summit on the topic hosted by the International Energy Agency (IEA) on Thursday (28 September).

Read the original French article here.

The Paris-based institution, whose mandate was extended in 2022, hosted the first-ever international summit on critical minerals and their role in clean energy transitions on Thursday (28 September), bringing together more than 90 political, institutional and industrial decision-makers from over 50 countries.

“Europe cannot replace its dependence on fossil fuels with a dependence on critical metals,” Breton told industry players at the event’s start on Thursday.

“Do not get me wrong, this does not mean we want to produce everything in Europe. Our approach is largely based on working with like-minded partners,” he said to reassure the room.

Even if the EU wanted to, “we won’t be able to produce everything at home”, he said.

Since mid-March, the European Union has been rolling out its strategy to improve the management of resources essential to the energy transition, with the Commission’s flagship proposal for a Critical Raw Materials Act (CRMA).

Unveiled by the European Commission in March, the proposal sets benchmarks to increase domestic capacity for raw materials extraction, processing and recycling, with aspirational targets corresponding to 10, 40 and 15% of the EU’s annual consumption.

The European Parliament has since revised these targets upwards for recycling (from 15% to 45%) and processing (from 40% to 50%).

While Europe has “lost its competitive edge in mining”, Breton said the aim was to increase production capacity beyond current estimates, with leading French geological experts arguing that the EU could even export its capacity in the long term.

But while EU countries are keen to support the revival of mining on EU soil, there is no guarantee that society will accept such projects. Fierce opposition to mining projects already exists in the mountainous north of Portugal, for example.

Without clear EU policies for each material, the EU “may not be able to meet [its] targets due to a lack of sufficient production capacity and time to implement them”, according to Christophe Poinssot, director general at the French geological survey (BRGM).

This was the approach France defended in intergovernmental negotiations.

Speaking alongside Breton, US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm set out her country’s intentions, calling for “combined capabilities” and “listening to what everyone can bring to the table: resources, scientists, industry, etc”.

At the same time, IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol stressed the importance of cooperation, sustainability and diversification so that “demand can influence the value chain”, which for much of the resources needed for the energy transition is key but concentrated in the hands of a few countries, including China, which did not attend.

Amid growing supply worries on raw materials, several EU and IEA member states have decided to take matters into their own hands.

On Wednesday, France signed two “strategic dialogue” agreements with Canada and Australia to define and coordinate their strategies for developing strategic and critical mining resources.

As for Germany, it launched bilateral talks on critical raw materials with Australia on Monday.

The EU is also in talks with Australia to seal a free trade agreement covering, among other things, the southern country’s mineral resources. Across the Atlantic, the EU is seeking a strategic partnership with Chile, the world’s leading producer of copper and second in lithium.

Breton also mentioned signing partnerships with Canada, Namibia and Argentina, as well as talks with the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“Of course, the European Commission and Europe can be seen as reliable partners,” he concluded.

[Edited by Frederic Simon/Nathalie Weatherald]

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