• Diego Marin - associate policy officer for environmental justice at the European Environmental Bureau, Brussels
  • Žaklina Živković - policy researcher and activist at Polekol, Serbia
  • Ewa Sufin - director of green think tank Strefa Zieleni, Poland
  • Richard Wouters (moderator) - researcher at Wetenschappelijk Bureau GroenLinks, Netherlands

The climate emergency leaves us no choice but to make a swift transition from fossil fuels to renewable energies. However, the wind turbines, solar panels and electric vehicles that we need in order to become climate-neutral require lots of metals.

European Green Academy

We take it for granted that these metals will be available. But they have to be dug up from the ground. Some of them are scarce. By 2030, the world will need twice as much lithium and cobalt as current mines can supply, and 25% more copper, according to the International Energy Agency.

The countries of the European Union have largely outsourced metal mining to the Global South. China dominates the processing of many scarce metals. The green tech industry that is developing within the EU – with battery factories in Poland, for example – is heavily dependent on imported metals. This creates supply risks for Europe's energy transition. The dependence on China also puts the EU's strategic autonomy at stake.

On top that comes an ethical concern: most mining is a dirty business. The EU has a responsibility for the social and environmental abuses associated with metal mining and processing in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (cobalt), South Africa (manganese, platinum), Chile (copper, lithium) and China (silicon metal, rare earths).

Do local and indigenous communities in mining regions in the Global South pay the price for our green ambitions? Are women disproportionately affected? Where is the climate justice in that? Does the supply chain due diligence that the EU is promoting represent a break with neo-colonial extractivism? Can better recycling of metals make a substantial contribution to reducing the demand for imported metals, thus strengthening the EU's strategic autonomy? Or should Europeans look under their own feet for the metal ores they need?

Transnational workshop

We will debate these questions in a transnational workshop in Warsaw. The workshop is part of the European Green Academy, organised by the Green European Foundation with the support of Fundacja Strefa Zieleni and Heinrich Böll Stiftung Warsaw, and with the financial support of the European Parliament to the Green European Foundation. The Academy will take place on 15 and 16 July in Warsaw, Poland.

The debate will build on the report Metals for a Green and Digital Europe that the Green European Foundation and Wetenschappelijk Bureau GroenLinks published in 2021. This report is available in English, French, Spanish, Dutch, Polish and Czech.