9. Agenda for action

The shift to a more responsible use of metals for the green and digital transitions requires action at all political levels. This Agenda for Action lists a number of measures that take into account the interests of both developing countries and future generations, as well as the EU’s quest for strategic autonomy and the protection of its values. It is inspired by numerous initiatives already taken by the Greens in the European Parliament and other green actors.

European Union

  • On the road towards a Europe that is climate-neutral by 2040 and circular by 2050, set targets for the reduction of resource use by 2030 and 2040, with sub-targets for virgin metals and other minerals, biomass, water, and land, including the phasing-out of fossil resources. (1)
  • Promote the inclusion of circular strategies and resource efficiency targets in the nationally determined contributions ((NDCs) under the Paris Agreement on climate change. (2) Participatory roadmapping should identify potential winners and losers from the circular transition and help shape mechanisms for a just transition. (3)
  • In order to preserve metal ores for future generations, add the metals at the greatest risk of depletion to the EU list of critical raw materials. Taking into account both geological scarcity (4) and environmental hazards during mining (5), these would include copper, molybdenum, zinc, and nickel.
  • Work towards the establishment of an International Competence Centre on Mineral Resources Management, after the example of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (6)
  • Work towards a UN agreement on the conservation and use of physically scarce mineral resources which provides for extraction quotas and a compensation system for developing countries that place limits on extraction. (7)

Saving metals

  • Europe must turn its weakness – dependence on imported metals – into a strength by becoming a world leader in the circular use of metals and the substitution of scarce metals by more abundant materials. Step up EU funding for public research and public (co-)investment in the value chain for secondary materials. Set high requirements for ecodesign, recycling rates, and recycled content which spur innovation and support the reshoring of outsourced manufacturing, for instance of solar panels. Closed-loop industry chains should provide more and decent jobs, including for workers from fossil sectors in the framework of a just transition.
  • Set (more) ambitious, material-specific targets for the high-quality recycling of electric vehicle batteries within the proposed Battery Regulation (8): 95 per cent by 2025 and 98 per cent by 2030 for cobalt, nickel, and copper; 70 per cent by 2025 and 90 per cent by 2030 for lithium. In parallel, set higher targets for recycled content in new batteries. (9) Add similar targets for phosphate in batteries. Review these targets regularly in the light of technological developments, such as changes in battery chemistry.
  • Set ambitious, material-specific recycling and recycled content targets for other products that contain scarce metals and minerals, through waste and ecodesign legislation. These products include electric vehicle motors, industrial motors, and wind turbines with permanent magnets containing rare earths.
  • To counter environmental dumping and increase the availability of secondary resources, tighten the export ban on waste and improve enforcement.
  • Prioritise products and devices containing scarce metals and minerals for ecodesign measures such as durability, upgradability, repairability, interoperability, recyclability, and substitution.
  • Prohibit planned obsolescence and irreparability, following the examples of France (10) and Italy.
  • Extend the right to repair to devices such as smartphones and laptops. Make this right universal: spare parts should be available and affordable to all, and repair manuals and 3D printing models for parts should be publicly available under a free licence. (11) Conformity and security updates for software should be provided for at least eight years after purchase; when technical support or security updates end, the source code must become publicly available. (12)
  • Introduce a mandatory repairability score for consumer products and develop it into a sustainability index. (13)
  • Extend the two-year legal guarantee against faulty products proportionally to the estimated lifetime of the product and encourage repair over replacement. (14)
  • Introduce reporting requirements on circularity in the upcoming Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive, to include the use of virgin and recycled materials, production and consumer waste, recycling rates, and recycled content rates. (15)
  • Phase out critical raw materials where these can be substituted by more abundant, non-toxic materials without loss of performance, for instance in new stationary batteries (sodium can replace cobalt, nickel, lithium, and phosphate), flame retardants (no more antimony), and mineral insulation wool (no more boron).
  • Empower the European Commission to ban the use of critical raw materials for non-essential applications in times of shortage, by means of delegated acts. (16) The demand for gadgets, jewellery, and mobile phones must not impede the energy transition.
  • Ensure a more balanced composition of the European Raw Materials Alliance, including far greater civil society representation. (17)

Saving metals by saving energy

  • Raise the 2030 energy efficiency target from 32.5 (18) to 45 per cent. Adjust member states’ targets accordingly. Make them binding. For the building sector, require an annual deep renovation rate of at least 3 per cent. (19) The cleanest energy is the energy we do not have to produce.
  • Ensure electric vehicles and charging stations can assist in balancing the power grid through smart charging, including vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology.
  • Promote innovations in electricity storage that reduce the demand for scarce metals, such as compressed air and gravity-based storage.
  • Adopt binding sustainability standards for data centres which include energy-efficient cooling, minimal water use, the recovery and reuse of waste heat, and the extension of hardware lifespans.

Saving metals by saving on data

  • Develop ecodesign requirements that limit the data use of online films, videos, games, and advertisements, as well as connected devices.
  • Introduce ecodesign requirements for software aimed at limiting the use of hardware resources, energy, and data. (20) These requirements should tackle software bloat by limiting non-essential pre-installed software and ensuring it can be removed by users, and by preventing software from running unnecessarily in the background. Non-essential software features that require a considerable amount of memory, storage or processing power should be optional. Functional updates, as distinct from corrective updates, should be reversible.
  • Promote free and open-source software which enables users to adapt code to the capabilities of their hardware without unnecessary ballast. (21)
  • Set ecodesign requirements for cryptocurrencies. (22) Ban non-compliant currencies from registered exchange platforms.
  • Develop a metric for the computational intensity of AI models, introduce a reporting requirement for AI developers, and promote the metric as a criterion in the public procurement of AI.
  • Ban the trade in personal data, including personalised advertising, biometric mass surveillance, social scoring (23), and the untargeted interception of telecommunications. (24)

Responsible mining

  • Cease handing out free allowances for greenhouse gas emissions to industry, including mining installations, under the Emissions Trading System (ETS). Introduce a border adjustment tax to ensure that imported emissions from metal mining and processing outside the EU do not escape carbon pricing. (25)
  • Set a trajectory for a climate-positive EU metal mining sector by 2030, by means of the mandatory use of zero-emission machinery and the sequestration of atmospheric carbon in alkaline waste minerals. (26)
  • Tighten the Extractive Waste Directive in view of the goal of zero pollution by 2050. (27) Zero pollution and minimal waste imply precise selective mining, the phasing out of hazardous and fossil-based chemicals, the maximal removal of toxic substances, the optimal and maximal utilisation of extracted minerals within legal limits, dewatering tailings, and/or moving processing steps underground and taking only marketable minerals to the surface.
  • Tighten the Habitats Directive to ensure that Natura 2000 sites are no-go zones for new mining projects.
  • Map the potential supply of secondary raw materials from stocks and wastes. (28) Devise an action plan for turning abandoned mining sites and landfills (29) from environmental liabilities into assets through waste valorisation and site rehabilitation.
  • Extend mandatory value chain due diligence to all companies operating in the EU market. The law should require that companies identify, address, and remedy their impact on human rights (particularly women’s, children’s, and indigenous rights), the environment, and governance throughout their value chain. Public reporting must be mandatory. The law must also include sanctions for non-compliance, impose liability on companies for any harm they cause, and guarantee access to remedy, including judicial remedy, for victims. (30) The European Commission should only recognise due diligence schemes that are based on the highest standards, such as those of the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA). (31)
  • Engage constructively in the negotiations on a UN Treaty on Business and Human Rights.
  • Promote digital systems that allow the tracing of (raw) materials and products throughout the value chain.
  • Support civil society, within and outside of Europe, in monitoring mining operations and pushing for compliance with EU and national laws as well as international standards.
  • Promote better conditions for artisanal metal mining as well as the diversification of livelihoods, including agriculture, to reduce communities’ dependence on mining in countries such as the DRC. (32)
  • Step up support for value addition and economic diversification in the Global South, including through regional integration, development partnerships, and technology transfer. The domestic processing of raw materials and the related development of renewable energy and responsible recycling should provide for local ownership and create decent jobs for women and men alike, including fossil sector workers in the framework of a just transition.
  • Increase grant-based financing for the SDGs and – on the condition of debt sustainability – promote the financing facilities of the European Investment Bank (EIB) as an alternative to the Chinese loans that require developing countries to mortgage their natural resources and critical infrastructure. Anchor the SDGs more strongly in the EIB’s lending policy and strengthen human rights due diligence, transparency, and accountability. (33)
  • Adopt an anti-coercion instrument that allows the EU to take economic countermeasures in the case of economic coercion by China or other powers. This should include a de-escalation mechanism. (34)
  • Work towards an EU common space law in full respect of the Outer Space Treaty, the Moon Agreement, and other international instruments. (35)
  • Take a leading role in establishing a UN agency for the management of space resources, the scope of which would include benefit-sharing between the Global North and South.

National governments

  • Encourage circular design by means of ecomodulation within extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes for discarded products. Differentiate the financial contributions of producers and importers according to the durability, reparability, re-usability, and recyclability of their products, as well as recycled content.
  • Introduce return premiums or deposits on all electronics, portable batteries, beverage cans, and other products containing metals in order to push up end-of-life collection rates.
  • Ensure that EPR schemes not only focus on collection and recycling but also contribute to waste prevention. Set targets for repair, refurbishment, and reuse, to be achieved by means of a repair fund. The fund would be financed by producers and importers and would give consumers a discount on repairs, following the example of France. (36)
  • Utilise the (current and future) (37) flexibility of the EU Value Added Tax (VAT) regime to lower or abolish VAT on repair and maintenance services as well as on the sale of second-hand goods.
  • Integrate the acquisition of basic repair skills into school curricula.
  • Apply circularity, energy efficiency, data frugality, and fair-trade criteria within public procurement. Take circularity and responsible sourcing into account when putting projects for the generation and storage of renewable energy out to tender.
  • Drive forward energy efficiency in the building, industry, business, digital, transport, and agricultural sectors, inter alia through (near) zero-energy building renovation, mandatory no-regret energy-saving measures, and the promotion of cycling, public transport, car-sharing, and smaller cars.
  • Phase out energy tax rebates for major consumers, including the metals industry and data centres. Reward demand response, which helps balance electricity supply and demand.
  • Ensure the timely roll-out of the infrastructure needed for the defossilisation of energy-intensive industries, including metallurgy. This includes sufficient grid connections as well as pipeline capacity for hydrogen and CO2. (38)
  • Provide investment security for the defossilisation of energy-intensive industries with carbon contracts for difference (CCfDs), which bridge the gap between the prevailing price of CO2 emissions and the actual costs of abating emissions. (39)
  • Promote the sharing of networks and infrastructure by (mobile) telecom operators while protecting consumers.
  • Promote data deletion campaigns, also within government, while respecting archiving obligations. (40)
  • Ensure compliance with EU laws such as the Habitats and Birds Directives, the Water Framework Directive, and the Extractive Waste Directive, as well as with international standards, when dealing with permit applications for metal (re-)mining. Prohibit the development of new mining projects on Natura 2000 sites. Require mining companies to obtain broad support from impacted communities.
  • Publish a list of the national importers subject to the EU Conflict Minerals Regulation for the purpose of compliance monitoring by civil society organisations. (41)
  • Join and implement the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) on the public disclosure of information such as revenues, taxes, royalties, permits, and contracts along the extractive industry value chain. (42)
  • Support indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior, and informed consent by ratifying the International Labour Organisation’s Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention. (43)
  • Work towards making ecocide an international crime within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. (44)
  • Stop export finance for fossil fuel projects and support renewable energy in the Global South, thereby reducing the carbon intensity of Europe’s imports.
  • In parliament, withhold approval of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between the EU and Canada. Its Investment Court System would give Canada-based mining multinationals additional leverage to pressure European governments into granting mining permits. (45)
  • Support a moratorium on deep-sea mining until its effects have been sufficiently researched and it can be demonstrated that extraction can be managed in a way that effectively protects the marine environment, biodiversity, and the ocean carbon sink.
  • Accede to or ratify the Moon Agreement and – in the case of Luxembourg – adapt national space mining legislation accordingly. (46) Foster talks within the UN on an international regime for the management of space resources.

Local and regional governments

  • Work on an ambitious reduction of private car ownership in urban areas. Aim for a 15-minute city (47) and avoid urban sprawl. Reduce parking availability for private cars. Improve cycling infrastructure and public transport. Set up mobility hubs that include shared e-cars and e-bikes. In rural areas, introduce demand-driven public transport. Adopt 'privacy by design' apps for Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS).
  • Promote other forms of pooling and sharing that reduce our material footprint, including the use of metals: from peer-to-peer sharing of electric tools and the common use of household appliances in apartment blocks to the sharing of office space and equipment.
  • Apply circularity, energy efficiency, data frugality, and fair-trade criteria within public procurement. (48) Act as a launching customer for circular business models, including Product-as-a-Service (PaaS). Take circularity and responsible sourcing into account when putting projects for the generation and storage of renewable energy out to tender.
  • Promote the separate collection of e-waste, in cooperation with producers’ organisations. Task municipal waste collection services to rescue products whose lifespan can be extended, in cooperation with reuse and repair shops.
  • Promote repair services that are accessible and affordable for all, including repair cafés. Shopping areas should offer not just new products, but also options for repair and reuse.
  • Provide repair vouchers to consumers to make repairs more affordable, after the Austrian example. (49)
  • Connect the circular and social economy by creating jobs in repair and disassembly for people who are vulnerable to poverty and exclusion, as well as internships for students.
  • Create a contact point for circular initiatives to assist those interested in using waste streams as a resource in obtaining legal advice, finding funding, and connecting with value chain partners.
  • Raise the issue of material efficiency in the public debate on the integration of renewable energy sources in the landscape. (50) Combining wind and solar power reduces the need for the storage and long-distance transport of electricity and enables the sharing of grid connections, thus saving scarce metals.

Footnotes

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Green European Foundation (GEF)

This project is organised by the Green European Foundation with the support of Wetenschappelijk Bureau GroenLinks (NL), Fundacja Strefa Zieleni (PL), Transición Verde (ES), Etopia (BE), Institut Aktivního Občanství (CZ), the Green Economics Institute (UK) and Visio (FI), and with the financial support of the European Parliament to the Green European Foundation.

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