The EU Green Deal is both a climate strategy to become the first climate neutral continent in the world, and an economic growth strategy. The idea is that the green transition will give European business and industry a competitive advantage, and create new, green jobs – while ensuring a healthy environment for all European citizens. The updated EU Industry Strategy, based on lessons learned from the pandemic, put an extra emphasis on the need to enhance Europe’s open strategic autonomy and to build a resilient green and digital economy.
In this context the extraction of minerals and Critical Raw Materials (CRM) in Europe is more important than ever. CRMs are neccessary to reach climate neutrality, as they are crucial when making new technologies, such as batteries and electric engines. In the words of MEP Hildegard Bentele “We have a consistent and ambitious package that tackles the urgency of stable and sustainable critical raw materials supply chains while at the same time ensuring Europe’s competitiveness and jobs”.
The recent EU Action Plan on CRMs and the launch of the European Raw Material Alliance (ERMA) are both aimed to develop resilient value chains for industrial ecosystems, reduce dependency on primary CRMs and strengthen domestic sourcing of raw materials in the EU.
The minerals sector in the NSPA
The northernmost regions of Norway, Finland and Sweden at the top of the Fennoscandinavian Shield in the European Arctic, have leading industries and research for sustainable extraction, refinement and recycling of raw materials. Over half of Europe’s most critical mineral and metals are found in the Nordic bedrock, with most of the deposits in the north. The tradition, the competence and the capability throughout the whole value chain makes the European Arctic the most advanced and most valuable ecosystem for the development of sustainable mining in Europe. NSPA wants to strengthen its position as a global frontrunner for sustainable development, a reliable and efficient supplier of raw materials, an innovative testbed, and a high-tech knowledge hub, as well as a vital facilitator for the European green and digital economy.
However, the NSPA must overcome various bottlenecks to enhance sustainable regional development linked to mining. The Arctic is vulnerable to climate change and environmental impacts. Sustainable extraction of raw materials is also a precondition for attractive livelihoods and needs to be in line with the highest environmental, social and governance standards. The mining industry is therefore surrounded by extensive legislation and regulations that must be complied with before, during and after production. All activities that risk affecting nature are thoroughly tested in accordance with the highest environmental codes.
However, various systems need improvement: such as permit processes and examinations that must become more efficient and predictable to unlock full potential and attract more investments. Many of the challenges related to regulatory frameworks needs to be handled on the national level, but a lot can be learned and exchanged between decisionmakers and stakeholders on the regional level within the NSPA. One example of enhanced cross-border cooperation is the feasibility study initiated by the North Calotte Council. A roadmap which identifies nine areas of common issues and opportunities, as well as proposals of joint strategic activities, possibly realised through a joint NSPA minerals strategy.
The important role of the EU going forward
The EU is and will be playing a key role in the sustainable development of the minerals sector in the NSPA as it encourages strategic planning, cooperation, and capacity building through a wide range of different investment tools, such as structural funds and territorial cooperation based on Smart Specialisation Strategies (S3). Place-based development strategies has been essential for regions to tailor investments to fit the specific needs for each territory. The increased EU support for regions to facilitate strategic investments in knowledge, technology and innovation together will be essential for sustainable development, continuous reliable supply, and European competitiveness. The high ambitions of the EU require a multisectorial and a multi-level governance approach to involve all relevant stakeholders to joint policy development and action