Further development of policy options for an ecological raw materials policy
The German government and German industry are increasingly exploring the question of how the supply of raw materials for Germany can be rendered sustainable in the long term. Scientific studies and media articles periodically report about manifold environmental impacts related to mining activities and the processing of raw materials. Examples include dam collapses with dramatic consequences for the environment, as happened at an iron ore mine in Brazil (Samarco mine in Mariana) in November 2015 or in Kolontár (Hungary) in 2010 where a reservoir containing toxic red mud burst. In addition to the impacts of such accidents, there are long-term environmental pressures through mercury and cyanide emissions in gold mining, radioactive pollution in rare earth mining, and the destruction of high-value ecosystems in the development of new mining sites worldwide.
While the global economy will have to rely on the primary extraction of a whole range of abiotic raw materials for the foreseeable future, taking effective measures to make mining sustainable is hampered by the following circumstances:
▸ Many of the raw materials Germany needs are extracted elsewhere – and often outside the EU as well – with the result that many raw material supplies escape governance by German environmental legislation.
▸ Simply the diversity of the raw materials that Germany needs dictates that measures be focused on and primarily applied to streams that are particularly environmentally relevant. Yet, a comprehensive environmental assessment of the mining of abiotic raw materials, which could support a sound prioritization, does not currently exist.
The ÖkoRess II project seeks to contribute to tackling these challenges. It builds on the results of the precursor projects ÖkoRess, UmSoRess and RohPolRess, complements them and feeds their findings into scientific, political and societal debates on this issue.
The project is given expert support by a Project Advisory Group on Environmental Issues of Raw Materials Policy, which was set up at the end of 2013. The group is composed of representatives of federal ministries, authorities, companies, industry associations, research institutions and civil-society groups. This ensures broad integration of expertise and social interests.
Based on the method developed in the first ÖkoRess project (ÖkoRess I) for the assessment of the ecological availability of raw materials, the environmental hazard potential for 50 abiotic raw materials has now been assessed. More than half of them have a high environmental hazard potential because mining may affect e.g. protected areas or contaminate soil and water with heavy metals, acids or radioactivity.
The results underline the need to implement measures for more environmental protection in global mining, more responsibility in raw material supply chains and better use of raw materials. Promising approaches are already in place: They range from the safe handling of mining waste to environmental due diligence in global raw material supply chains, longer product use cycles, more recycling and resource efficiency.