It provides input to the EU’s policy efforts at a time when global raw material supply chains continue to be severely disrupted, including as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent surge in energy prices around the world.
Vice President Maroš Šefčovič, responsible for Interinstitutional Relations and Foresight said: “Raw materials are no longer a simple commodity but a crucial enabler of the green and digital transitions. Their secure and sustainable supply is essential for preserving the global competitiveness of the EU’s most strategic sectors, as we develop and deploy clean and low-carbon technologies such as batteries, and digital solutions. We must therefore accelerate our efforts to build a more resilient raw materials value chain, by investing not only in primary raw materials extraction but also in domestic refining facilities recycling and R&I all critical for a secure supply of secondary raw materials”.
Commissioner Thierry Breton, responsible for the Internal Market, said: “To address the climate change, inaction is not an option. The recent COP26 summit in Glasgow made it clear. While the European ambition is set, this transition is anything but seamless. Technologies we need to make it happen will require more raw materials, innovation, technological breakthroughs, skills as well as resilient, reliable and diversified sources of supply. We also need to equip ourselves with tools to anticipate and mitigate tensions in supply chains and shortages and make the most out of the opportunities offered by the Internal Market. Today’s conference is a strong signal of our readiness to work together and to invest our time and money to address these challenges while striving for a sustainable global competitiveness of our industrial ecosystems
The 3rd Raw Materials Scoreboard focuses on metallic metals and minerals, non-metallic minerals, and biotic materials. These materials are essential to several key sectors of the European economy, such as automotive, electronics, or manufacturing industries, which vitally depend on their secure supply.
Among the key findings, the report highlights that Europe lags behind and has high levels of dependency on other regions for certain raw material production, while domestic production of raw materials secures jobs and added value in the EU, and decarbonisation with circular use of raw materials also offer further opportunities.
Raw materials within the EU
Most exploration in the EU is taking place in the Nordic countries, Spain, Portugal, and Ireland, a stable trend compared with the previous scoreboards. Gold, copper and zinc are still the main target commodities.
However, 54 exploration projects have been listed since 2017, flagging an interest in further exploration of the continent. As the global demand for batteries for electric vehicles has grown, new exploration projects for lithium and cobalt have been launched in the EU, for example in Austria and in Spain.
At the same time, the EU’s exploration budget in 2019 remained low compared to other world regions. It is equally allocated to gold (37%), followed by copper (30%), and zinc (25%). The lack of junior companies that would be most likely to invest in new explorations is one of the factors behind the low exploration budget in the EU.
The 3rd Scoreboard identifies significant changes over time in the individual sectors as regards employment, and yet a relatively stable employment overall. Much of the stability is due to the extractive industry, whereas processing industries employ a much larger number of people, but have also experienced more pressure from outside the EU.
This trend is confirmed by higher levels in the EU’s production of processed and refined forms of aluminium, zinc, and iron than the EU mining capacity for these materials. During the period from 2008 to 2015, there was decline of 22% in the raw materials sector. From 2015, the employment has been growing again by 11 percent.
The transition towards a low-carbon and energy-efficient economy can equally create new ´green’ jobs. Almost 3.5 million people in the EU were employed in circular economy-related activities in 2017.
EU raw materials in the global context
The EU is the world’s third biggest producer of industrial minerals and industrial round wood, while its share of global production is low for iron and ferro-alloys, non-ferrous metals and precious metals, which makes the EU less resilient in the face of change.
The EU is almost self-sufficient in non-metallic minerals, while for metal ones it remains dependent on imports. Nevertheless, import reliance is very mixed for different materials and stages in the value chain.
For instance, regarding cobalt, the reliance level is 86% at the mining stage but only 27% at the processing stage, whereas for copper, for which the EU’s import reliance is 42% at the mining stage but only 16% for refined copper.
The EU is currently a net exporter of waste iron and steel, copper, aluminium and nickel and paper and cardboard, whereas it is a net importer of precious metals waste. Iron and steel was the most traded waste by mass in 2019 (almost 16 million tonnes exported to non-EU countries), followed by paper and cardboard (6 million tonnes exported).
Circular economy, environment and social responsibility
The scoreboard further assesses different indices as regards the circular economy and recycling, the competitiveness and innovation, the environment and social dimensions.
The overall trends show that the EU raw materials industries have been increasingly taking measures to mitigate adverse effects on the environment and score high in sustainability reporting.
However, there is still room for improvement as regards the collection of waste electrical and electronic equipment, and reversing the growing trend in waste exports compared to imports to the EU.
The Scoreboard is an initiative of the European Innovation Partnership (EIP) on Raw Materials. The mission of this stakeholder platform is to provide high-level insights to the Commission, EU countries and private actors on innovative approaches to the challenges related to raw materials.
The results of this Scoreboard provide evidence that will feed into the implementation of the 2020 Critical Raw Materials Action Plan. It will support the work of the European Raw Materials Alliance , which has recently published its recommendations for a resilient and sustainable EU’s value chain of rare earths permanent magnets, used in motors of electric vehicles and windmills, electronics and space and defence applications among other key industrial applications.
The Commission established the Raw Materials Information System (RMIS) - the reference knowledge platform on non-food, non-energy raw materials, where the 2021 edition of raw material scoreboard as well as previous editions are available, and published the foresight report on critical raw materials in technologies and sectors.