The new "gold rush": Challenges associated with critical raw materials for the green transition

© Thomas Munita

11 March 2024, Brussels - Critical raw materials (CRMs) are closely linked to green technologies and are at the heart of the EU green transition and climate neutrality goals. They are irreplaceable for technologies such as solar panels, wind turbines, electric vehicles, or energy-efficient lighting, to name a few. Ensuring sustainable CRM extraction and trade therefore is key to the EU’s energy security and economic resilience. This is particularly important in the context of ever-increasing demand for CRMs.

The extraction, processing and trade of critical raw materials however is a complex process, involving a multitude of actors and intricate value chains and trade networks. Additional concerns about the extractive sector and its potential linkages to environmental destruction, human rights violations, corruption, poor governance, and organized crime along minerals value chains reinforce the need to ensure that CRM processes are transparent and resilient.

The EU has recognized the need to raise the standards for CRM extraction, processing, and trade to meet integrity standards, while ensuring a steady supply of CRM to enable the green energy transition. This includes devising strong responses to address vulnerabilities related to organized crime and corruption. This is why UNODC convened an exchange for EU Institutions as well as the United Nations Environment Programme to discuss current multilateral approaches, best practices, and potential partnerships towards strengthening CRM value chains and combating crimes in the minerals sector.

With about 40 people joining the hybrid meeting, participants included experts from the European Commission services, including Directorate-Generals of International Partnerships, Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations, Environment, Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, the Foreign Policy Instrument, and the European External Action Service (including EU Delegations), as well as representatives from the Brussels Offices of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).