Editorial - May 2015

Implementation of innovative technological solutions to reduce raw material dependency in the EU and the introduction of  clearer and more effective minerals policies seem to be one of the two major  challenges in the EU mineral policy debate. Some EU Member States have already updated and and implemented new mineral policies. Their aim is closely linked to their national economic strategies, i.e. traditional mining countries tend to focus on ensuring investment and proper exploitation of resources (e.g. Portugal), but others like the Netherlands are securing more the availability and improved sustainability of raw materials by seeking new supplies, and seeking to close cycles (re-use, recovery, and recycling). Generally the implementation of the countries’ minerals policies should help to build foundations for sustainable minerals and/or the recycling sector by encouraging the participation of all stakeholders, and boosting the introduction of new innovative technological solutions. Those countries that have already introduced a new mineral policy often develop special research programmes supporting innovation in mining and recycling, e.g.:

  • in Sweden the Strategic innovation programme for the Swedish Mining and Metal producing Industry, STRIM (2013-2016), whose aim is to contribute to sustainable growth and strengthen the Swedish mining and metal extraction industry,
  • in Finland the Green Mining programme (2011-2016), with its main objective to make Finland a global leader of sustainable mineral industry by 2020, with two main thematic areas: intelligent and minimum-impact mines and new mineral resources.

There are now also programmes in the EU focusing on innovation in mining, metal and mineral processing or assessing elements to improve related EU policies within and through Horizon 2020, the EIT KIC Raw MatTERS, or the network Era-Min (FP7). In one of the Horizon 2020 calls (SC5-13c-2015) it was assessed that mineral policies are sometimes not clear, too dispersed in their implementation or insufficiently linked to other national related policies (e.g. land-use planning) to be fully effective. To improve national mineral policies or to develop new ones, especially in newer EU members like Poland (Assumptions for the Action Plan in the field of security of Polish non-energy raw materials has been approved by the Ministry of Economy in September 2015; - for more information about Mineral Policy in Poland click here)  the best practice guidance developed by a Commission/Member States expert group including interdisciplinary knowledge on economic, environmental, social and legal aspects can help the valuation of existing and potential mineral resources in EU. Moreover, mineral policies should take into account other EU policies and regulations such as for example:

  • the obligation of some large companies for non-financial reporting (Corporate Social Responsibility) introduced by The Directive 2014/95/EU on disclosure of non-financial and diversity information by certain large undertakings and groups amending the Accounting Directive 2013/34/EU, entered into force on 6th December 2014. It requires companies concerned to disclose in their reporting, information on policies, risks and outcomes as regards environmental matters, social and employee aspects, respect for human rights, anticorruption and bribery issues, and diversity in their board of directors. This will provide investors and other stakeholders with a more comprehensive picture of a company’s performance,
  • the proposal for implementation of Life Cycle Assessment into European environmental policy by creating the environmental footprint for a product or organization, which should document scientifically the performance and potential environmental impacts throughout the lifecycle, i.e. including for example, the impact of energy consumed (based on supplier-specific data, or if it is not available, country-specific consumption-mix data) along the life cycle. Research ideas which recommends differentiated VAT rates according to the environmental footprint performance of products, i.e. a system of “green value added tax” (VAT) based on life cycle assessment (LCA) results , are one of the ideas.

However, one of the recently most discussed  aspects for mining development is the social contribution and acceptance of mining investments and potential conflicts related to acquisition and use of land. In some countries social protests against mining have intensified and have required extended consultations. Therefore, more information is needed about the role of minerals in the economy, as well the activities which create good relationships between governments, large-scale mining companies and local communities at the earliest stages of mining projects. New innovative and environmental friendly technologies (including reuse, recovery, recycling and substitution) with an adequate mining policy or other policies, and good CSR programs create a better chance for reducing raw material dependency in EU.

Joanna Kulczycka
Professor AGH, MEERI Polish Academy of Sciences Cracow