EU’s Critical Raw Materials Act: Improved ambitions, but language still raises concerns for Environmental Protection, Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Protection, and Demand Reduction

On 13 November, the EU swiftly reached a political agreement on the Critical Raw Materials Act (CRMA). Today, Members of the European Parliament gave the text the green light. The EU Raw Materials Coalition, representing more than 50 Civil Society Organisations from across Europe, highlights some of the outcomes in the final CRMA text.

Reducing raw material consumption and circularity: a missed opportunity, but potential to still act 

To achieve secure supply chains as outlined in the CRMA, scrutinizing demand projections and implementing policies to reduce wasteful consumption are vital. While lacking specific reduction targets, the final text will compel the Commission to regularly assess the EU’s progress in achieving specific raw material goals to manage the expected increase in consumption. However, the tackling of demand projections rely majorly on technological development and resource efficiency while failing to account sufficiency measures. Other welcomed improvements include the increasing of the recycling target to 25%, with, along with other circularity measures, may have the potential to contribute to reducing the overall raw materials consumption.

‘’The EU and Member States must prioritize realistic strategies to reduce raw material demand, thus lessening criticality and mitigating environmental and social risks. The Raw Materials Coalition advocates for specific targets, and though the CRMA’s current language on demand moderation is a starting point, further development by implementing institutions is necessary. We anticipate collaborative efforts in the coming years.” Robin Roels, Spokesperson for the Raw Materials Coalition, EEB.

Meaningful Participation? Civil Society, Indigenous Peoples, and affected communities in the Green and Digital Transitions

We welcome the added emphasis on affected community involvement in the recitals, as well as the inclusion of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and observer status for civil society and affected communities on the Critical Raw Materials Board. However, the explicit and binding recognition of the Indigenous Peoples’ right to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) as proposed by the European Parliament and demanded by Indigenous Peoples organisations was not included in the final text. With more than half of the raw materials deemed as strategic being located on or near Indigenous Peoples’ territories, Indigenous Peoples’ rights need to be put front and center.

As we make the vital transition to clean energy, we cannot afford to duplicate the mistakes of the past and the decimation of our ancestral lands and territories. It is imperative that Indigenous communities around the globe participate meaningfully in decision-making and are able to exercise our right to give or withhold consent to these mining projects that impact our land, livelihoods, and cultures” said Galina Angarova (Buryat), Executive Director of Cultural Survival and Co-Chair of the Executive Committee of the SIRGE Coalition. 

Overreliance on certifications will outsource environmental and human rights protections

Additional alarming aspects involve the significant reliance of the CRMA on certification schemes to “attest compliance” for Strategic Projects outside the EU. As evidence shows, these schemes are not suited to prove nor ensure compliance with human rights and environmental standards. 

The Commission essentially outsources human rights and environmental protection responsibilities to private certification entities, often influenced by the very mining companies they are meant to oversee. While the adoption of basic fitness criteria, such as multi-stakeholder governance, on-site audits, and anti-bribery and anti-corruption mechanisms, is a positive step, they will fall short of ensuring robust protection for the environment and human rights.” Johanna Sydow, Head of International Environmental Policy, Heinrich Böll Stiftung.

Environmental protection is still at risk within the CRMA

Despite an extension of the permit-granting process by three months, apprehensions linger regarding the language of ‘overriding public interest,’ potentially enabling mining activities in protected areas. EU legislators overestimate the efficacy of Europe’s mining regulations, as emerging research indicates significant challenges in extractive operations even within member states with strong governance metrics, let alone biodiversity impacts on third countries. 

‘’We see a great danger that the growing demand for metals will drive the extraction of raw materials in nature conservation areas. Already, 4 out of 5 mining projects worldwide are in or close to protected areas, with a range of negative impacts. Ecosystems are the source of life for our future and must not fall victim to hasty and non-transparent processes.Tobias Kind-Rieper, Global Head of Mining and Metals, WWF Germany.

International Dimension: Strategic Partnerships risk exacerbating human rights impacts

The EU aims to boost sourcing from third countries, yet existing trade and financial tools fall short in bolstering environmental and human rights safeguards. Investments through the Global Gateway, export credits for strategic projects in global south producing countries, Free Trade Agreements and strategic partnerships geared toward securing supplies from third countries risk perpetuating the familiar negative impacts associated with the mining sector.“The impacts from mining operations such as corruption, lack of transparency, deforestation, biodiversity loss, and human rights abuses, which particularly affect women disproportionately are driven by a lack of transparency and corporate accountability. The EU’s trade policy must improve significantly to ensure these partnerships benefit local development, respect and uphold environmental sustainability and human rights. Perrine Fournier, Trade and Forests campaigner, Fern.


EU’s Critical Raw Materials Act: Civil Society Demands Stronger Environmental Standards, Indigenous Rights Protection, and Demand Reduction Targets

On Monday the 13th of November the co-legislators reached a political agreement on the Critical Raw Materials Act (CRMA). The CRMA proposal was published in March 2023 and yet the final text is being agreed upon at the time of this publication. The EU Raw Materials Coalition, representing more than 40 Civil Society Organisations from across Europe, highlights some main concerns with regard to the agreement.

Europe has to be a global leader in circularity and demand reduction. Increasing the recycling target to 25% is a step in the right direction, with the potential to contribute to reducing the overall Raw Materials consumption and boosting circularity. While the CRMA includes language calling for work towards reducing raw material demand, it fails to incorporate a concrete target for raw material consumption reduction.

It is very concerning that the principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) is not explicitly mentioned in the official communication on the CRMA by the European Council. More than half of Critical Raw Materials are located on or near Indigenous Peoples’ territories. The CRMA is an opportunity to avoid repeating past mistakes and lead the transition in the right direction. The CRMA must ensure that Indigenous Peoples’ rights are guaranteed and FPIC is included in the text.

The prominent role the regulation gives to certification schemes as a tool to attest compliance with sustainability criteria for strategic projects is alarming. As evidence shows, they are not suited to prove compliance with human rights and environmental standards. Nonetheless, the coalition welcomes the minimum fitness criteria for the schemes which have been adopted, such as multistakeholder governance, audits on site and anti-bribery and anti-corruption mechanisms. While the criteria could have been significantly stronger, it is a step in the right direction.

As the presidency navigates the technical negotiations, it’s imperative to underscore the necessity of embracing high ambitions regarding environmental standards on all levels. This includes maintaining the EU’s resolute stance on keeping mining activities out of the deep sea. The fragile ecosystems in the deep sea are unique and vulnerable, warranting steadfast protection from any form of resource extraction.