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Assessing the Social and Environmental Impacts of Critical Mineral Supply Chains for the Energy Transition in Europe

Referierte Aufsätze Web of Science

Etienne Berthet, Julien Lavalley, Candy Anquetil-Deck, Fernanda Ballesteros, Konstantin Stadler, Ugur Soytas, Michael Hauschild, Alexis Laurent

In: Global Environmental Change 86 (2024), 102841, 18 S.


Advanced technologies are inherently dependent on critical minerals and their related metals. The mining extraction of these critical minerals leads to significant social and environmental impacts that extend beyond the regions where those advanced technologies are ultimately used. This study explores the global socio-environmental challenges arising from the European Climate Law's aim for net-zero greenhouse emissions by 2050, focusing on the EU's consumption of critical minerals. Developing a novel methodology based on Multi-Regional Input-Output (MRIO) model, enriched with detailed mineral production data from specific ore-to-mineral ratios and socio-environmental information, this work assesses the impacts of the EU's mineral consumption within its energy transition framework. This innovative approach extends beyond ore extraction to encompass all stages of the supply chain. Key findings indicate that the continental Europe accounts for 60% of the EU's ore extraction footprint, yet only 35% of the mineral footprint for the 34 analyzed critical minerals. In contrast, Africa's and South America's shares are 12% and 29%, respectively, markedly higher than attributed in previous studies. The study highlights challenges in securing these minerals, including potential usage conflicts and increased mining in water-scarce basins within Australia, Kazakhstan, South Africa, and Chile, hence exacerbating environmental and community issues. Furthermore, the research suggests that achieving the EU's climate goals could expose between 15 and 89,000 African miners to increased modern slavery vulnerabilities by 2040. However, adherence to the EU Green Deal principles could mitigate these risks and recommendations are proposed, including diversifying mineral supply chains, establishing partnerships with countries that maintain high socio-environmental standards, and adopting circular economy paradigms and innovative solutions. This study advocates its new methodological development to build comprehensive strategies balancing climate goals with the global socio-environmental effects of critical mineral extraction, especially in developing countries.

Keywords: Modern slavery, mining, energy transition, European green deal, critical minerals, decarbonization divide