Following the Symposium on Transitioning to a Low-Carbon Economy – the Social License to Operate for the Mining and Recycling of Critical Metals (21 February 2018, Leuven, Belgium) the two EU Horizon 2020 projects SOCRATES and METGROW+ joined forces to publish a Policy Brief on this crucial topic for the mining/metallurgy sector in Europe and the wider society in general. The Policy Brief discusses the Five Lessons Learned with respect to the Social License to Operate for the mining and recycling of critical metals, which are essential for the transition to a low-carbon economy. An executive summary is provided below. (Leuven, 14-3-2018)
Executive Summary SOCRATES/METGROW+ Policy Brief, March 2018
Lesson 1: Although recycling efficiencies can be very high, with Umicore’s cobalt recycling efficiency exceeding 99%, very low collection rates – for example, just 5% for mobile phones – mean that the overall recycling efficiencies for many critical metals are far below their potential.
Lesson 2: In view of the growing need for critical metals, such as rare earths, lithium or cobalt, for the transition to a low-carbon economy, a significant level of primary mining will remain a necessity, even at hypothetical end-of-life recycling rates of 100%.
Lesson 3: European mines have the potential to supply nearly all Europe’s rare-earth needs for the next 50 years, but local opposition has so far prevented any large-scale mining. For other elements, like cobalt, we will always be dependent on imports, often from countries with lax environmental regulations.
Lesson 4: The mining industry does not rank highly in terms of trust. Being able to extract the critical raw materials from urban mines or new, primary mines will require this trust to be established with local communities.
Lesson 5: The European Commission has recognised the problem and endorsed the concept of the Social License to Operate (SLO). Major new H2020 projects, starting this year, will have to collaborate succesfully with local groups when working at several mining sites in Europe. The SLO concept should be refined and made more practical from a European perspective. This is the only way to overcome the NIMBY syndrome.
Disclaimer: the views expressed in this article are the private views of the author and may not, under any circumstances, be interpreted as stating an official position of any of the organisers of the Artefact Symposium: Stuk, SIM² KU Leuven, KU Leuven Dienst Cultuur, EIT Raw Materials, i-Cleantech Vlaanderen, EU METGROW+, Leuven 2030, Province of Flemish Brabant, nor of ETN SOCRATES.