Documentary “Responsible Mining in Europe”: what the experts say

On October 20, 2022, the documentary “Responsible Mining in Europe: A new paradigm to counter climate change” was officially launched. The documentary searches for answers to Europe’s seemingly problematic relationship with primary mining of energy-transition metals. In this article we provide an overview of testimonials as obtained from various experts worldwide, and provide all links to the documentary, trailer and related vodcasts.

The documentary

“Europeans want Tesla’s (and smart phones) but they don’t want the mines (that produce these metals) in their backyard and that is extremely hypocritical”: with this opening (& obviously simplifying) quote the scene is set in the documentary “Responsible Mining in Europe: A new paradigm to counter climate change”, which can be viewed here:

In this documentary Peter Tom Jones (Director KU Leuven Institute for Sustainable Metals and Minerals) searches for answers to Europe’s ambiguous relationship with primary mining of energy-transition metals. The documentary wants to trigger a more-informed debate about the three-pronged strategy of the European Commission in terms of raw materials for the climate transition and related planetary problems, i.e. (1) more and better recycling, (2) responsible sourcing from outside Europe; (3) responsible mining in Europe.

The central questions tackled in the documentary are: how can Europe avoid the nightmarish scenario on becoming completely dependent on China et al. for (refined) rare earths, lithium, cobalt, nickel, tin etc? How can mining be(come) socially and environmentally responsible? How can we overcome the NIMBY syndrome?

The documentary comprises spectacular (drone) footage of Europe's vanguard mining industry with key attention for social, environmental and waste management practices. Leading experts in the field (incl. Anders Sand & Mohammad Khoshkhoo (Boliden), Maria Nyberg (European Commission), Thomas Lapauw (ResourceFull), Liesbeth Horckmans (VITO) and Anne-Gwénaëlle Guezennec (BRGM)) share their views on how Europe can boost its critical raw materials independency.

The documentary, which was developed in the framework of two on-going European projects, was produced by the award-winning director Stijn van Baarle (STORYRUNNER).  

Vodcast series

As a side project to the main documentary, two vodcasts have also been launched, in which Peter Tom Jones interviews some key voices in the EU Raw Materials Sector.

In the first episode of the series, the floor is given to Anders Sand, the R&D manager of the EU-based mining & refining company Boliden Mines – which has been described as a “climate leader” by the Financial Times. The 17 minute-interview covers the following topics:

1/ What entails socially and environmentally responsible mining?

2/ Which rehabilitation plans are needed to transition to such a new mining paradigm?

3/ Why does the Not-In-My-Backyard-Syndrome (NIMBY) seem to be less pervasive in the North of Scandinavia compared to the rest of Europe? Can we move on from NIMBY to BIMBY (“Better In My Backyard)?

4/ Will there be new lithium, copper, cobalt/nickel, rare-earths mines opening up in Europe during the next 10 years?

5/ How can the European Commission develop a more coherent and effective raw materials strategy?

In the second episode, Peter Tom Jones speaks to Maria Nyberg (European Commission, DG GROW, Unit “Energy Intensive Industries and Raw Materials”). In this 28-minute interview Jones tries to obtain a clear picture about Europe’s official position with respect to primary mining of energy-transition metals. Nyberg elaborates on Europe’s three-pronged strategy towards raw materials, as conveyed by Europe’s political leaders Maroš Šefčovič and Thierry Breton.  

[Vodcast with Maria Nyberg (EC, DG GROW)]

The interview covers the NIMBY and Social License to Operate issues (related to mining in Europe), the moral obligation to not skip the social and environmental burden of mining to the rest of the world, the concept of ethical mining, and, crucially, the permitting procedures, which are simply too cumbersome in Europe (with Canada as a leading example of how it can be done faster). Note that the interview was done prior to the recent announcement of Imerys about its lithium mining plans in Beauvoir.

Useful Links to vimeo trailer, documentary and vodcasts

Endorsement at EU Raw Materials Week (Brussels, 14-15 November 2022)

Testimonials (updated numbers, status: 16-11-2022)

The trailer and the documentary were launched through a LinkedIn campaign on 18 and 20 October 2022. The two LinkedIn posts (Trailer + Documentary) obtained a combined total of 90,000 views, 1,260 reactions, 95 comments and almost 222 reposts. Here below we provide an overview of unedited testimonials and reactions by experts across the world, in various languages.

Bernd Schäfer, CEO and Managing Director at EIT RawMaterials

Congratulations! What an excellent and timely documentary Peter. Europe needs a domestic, responsible, and sustainable mining industry providing sufficient raw materials to make the green and digital transitions of the European Green Deal a reality.  Unfortunately, there is an absence of societal and industrial awareness around the uncomfortable truths that lie behind many of the raw materials we import from countries, where ESG standards fall short of European standards and consumer expectations. We must begin to dramatically reduce our dependency on China if we are to have a true and sustainable green power capacity across Europe, which is necessary to reach carbon-neutrality by 2050. ‘BIMBY‘ (better in my backyard) is the future that builds on the technological advantage of Europe that is hallmarked by a rigorous compliance with the highest of standards. Diversifying our raw materials supply between EU member states and like-minded international partners is also key and EIT RawMaterials and the European Raw Materials Alliance (ERMA), are consistently working towards those ends.

Andreas Endl

Peter Tom Jones very illustrative on the underlying technical challenges of primary sourcing of minerals needed for the energy transition. e.g. waste recovery and management as well as renewable energy are a crucial part for the sustainability transition of the extractives sector itself. What would be quite complementary in this regard is what other public and private management & service solutions are required to resolve social repercussions on a social licence to operate (e.g. FPIC and social aspects in mine impact assessments and local community reporting, or permitting processess) or resolve trade-offs with other resource use areas (e.g. imminent land use conflicts such as biodiversity or water quality). We are currently preparing for the launch of a Massive Open Online course that looks into these issues

Michael Lauté

This is a wonderful documentary you achieved. Even bioleaching technology is described. What a big sadness to see UE unable to take the measure of current situation. For political reasons they avoid the complex and dramatic reality. Unavoidably we continue to buy lithium concentrate from China while we have some underground. In the same time we focus on cobalt exclusively while some other chemistries are developed and which allows less CRM….mining has always been the easy target of criticism when Corporation such as Boliden are doing pretty well and no one talk about it, fear to be an accomplice of mining lobbies which is idiot and unfair. After the russian gas dependance UE is on way to create other dépendances , at the end , we never learn from our mistakes. Thanks for opening our eyes.

David M. Pollard, Exploration Geologist

So many people are so ignorant of the fact that there can be no true technological advancement without mining. Why shouldn't responsible mining not be taking place in countries such as the UK, France, Germany, Austria, Italy etc. It is only the INCORRECT believe that all mining is dangerous, polluting the environment & unnecessary because recycling alone can provide the solution. These assumptions are wrong. Western nations should be encouraging responsible mining within their own countries then there will be lesser need to transport these important minerals for long distances.

Veronika Sochorova, Communications Director at Euromines

A lot of people from the "non-mining" part of my life say that there is no need for mining in Europe. We can import everything from other parts of the world and keep Europe clean and green. Well, we can't! Or at least we shouldn't! It always takes me a little while to explain that we can't be so hypocritic and export our CO2 emissions and the impact on the environment, risking child labour and unsafe work conditions in some of the countries, adding huge amounts of emissions with extra transport, and last but not least risk that our value chains will be cut off from the primary sources. Because all the value chains start with minerals and metals! This documentary says it all. It will give you a different perspective on mining, the crucial importance of minerals and metals for the energy transition and fighting climate change. It demonstrates that the EU mining industry frontrunner in sustainability and is committed to continuously improving. One quote from this documentary: “Mining is unknown and therefore unloved.” Therefore, please have a look! Congrats Peter Tom Jones! Thanks, Anders Sand and @Maria Nyberg! Thanks, Boliden!

Bruno Jacquemin, Délégué Général chez Alliance des Minerais, Minéraux et Métaux, Délégué permanent du CSF Mines Métallurgie, Administrateur d'Entreprise, Coach de Dirigeants

Oui, l'industrie minière est indispensable à la #transitionécologique Parce que toutes les chaînes de valeur commencent par les minéraux et les métaux! Et l’industrie minière européenne est à l’avant-garde en matière de durabilité et s’engage à s’améliorer continuellement. @merci Peter Tom Jones & KU Leuven ( et Veronika Sochorova)

Charlotte JOHNSON

Listening to the challenges/issues that Europe has with mining and then considering what Australia is doing, it always gives you so much more perspective! #mining #greenenergysolutions

Tor Stendahl, Country Manager Finland and General Manager Nordic Battery Materials & Metal Services at BASF

We cannot have a sustainable battery value chain in Europe without our own mines. How can we morally say it's OK to buy the critical metals from mines in other regions if we don't allow them here?

Euromines – European Association of Mining Industries, Metal Ores & Industrial Minerals

This unique documentary provides a great view of #responsiblemining in Europe. Euromines supports the #ParisAgreement and the EU climate target of net-zero emissions by 2050. To reach this goal, sustainable and resilient European value chains are necessary, firmly based on sustainably mined raw materials. It is possible, have a look! Congrats Peter Tom Jones! Thanks, Anders Sand and @Maria Nyberg! Thanks, Boliden!

Jean-Christophe P. GABRIEL, Research Director, Nanoscience at CEA

Great job there. Makes very clear the staggering needs that the shift toward sustainable energy will require. A must see for all EU citizens.

Juan David Rayo Calderón, Electrical and Mathematical Engineer. R&D Responsible

No había visto un documental con una entrada tan épica en contra del cinismo ambiental que muchas veces se ve.

Diana Maxwell, Freelance linguist/association manager and policy adviser

This article/film highlights the double standards of promoting electric vehicles whilst not acknowledging the mining required to produce them. There is no easy solution, but we have to seek most suitable solutions and think about planning our environment to require less use of personal vehicles on a daily basis. #planning #environment #electricvehicles #mining

Zoltan Lukacs, Research Scientist at Australian Bureau of Agricultural & Resource Economics & Sciences (ABARES)

Europeans wanting Teslas and renewable energy without mines in their own back yards reminds me of Japanese wanting wood chips and chopsticks timber but not wanting to chop down their own beautiful timber forests. And who can forget EU / British power companies deeming wood pellets renewable and American or Canadian forests being cut down to turn the timber – sorry saw dust – into wood pellets to burn. Australia used to cut down native forests to turn timber into wood chips to sell to Japan in bulk carriers. But that became unpalatable so an entire blue gum plantation industry grew up across southern Australia. And so Australia shipped plantation blue gum Eucalyptus globulus and shining gum Eucalyptus nitens wood chips to Japan. And tropical rainforest trees in poor developing countries were cut down for Japanese wooden chopsticks because they prefer them over plastic ivory coloured Chinese chopsticks or squashed metal Korean chopsticks that are squashed because it saved metal when it was scarce during past wars. Who would have thought fuzzy European NIMBY logic concerning lithium mines would be identical to fuzzy Japanese logic concerning timber for wooden chopsticks? Certainly not me. My brain doesn’t work like that.

Pamela Hackett, Former CEO Proudfoot

As someone who has spent a good deal of time working in mines, I’m looking forward to seeing this. Shout out to Peter Tom Jones for bringing a critical point of view to this: It’s the ambiguity question, right? A Tesla without mining? Or a phone.. or any other electrification and technology solution today: Ethical, responsible mining can be done. And why? Because we need it, we’re seeing more and more the need for resource independence and continued technology advancement to enable a greener world. Mining can be a force for good.

Maarten Berg, MSc student Geology & Geochemistry

In some eyes mining is always perceived to be unethical and catastrophic for the global climate. And it seems like most people only see the "dirty" type of mining. But guess what? We need mines in order to fulfill the green transition and work on a better future! And as this documentary shows the mining industry is taking big steps into a more responsible way of mining. A "greener" way which most people did not knew existed. Let us hope people will start to realise we need to keep mining now and in the future.

Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or CINEA. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them. The SIM² team also acknowledges Mika Paajanen (VTT) and Hilde Nuyts (LRD) for the wonderful collaboration on this ambitious endeavour.

[Authors: Lieven Machiels & Peter Tom Jones (for SIM²)]

[Anders Sand (Boliden) in conversation with Peter Tom Jones (SIM² KU Leuven), in front of the Aitik mine in Sweden]

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