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‘Green mining’ is a myth: EU must slash resource consumption by two-thirds – new study

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New analysis suggests the EU must ditch plans under its European Green Deal to increase mining and instead set hard limits to the natural resources it extracts in order to prevent human and ecological disaster. Read the full report here.

European Green Deal plans will fail to stop runaway mining, creating further permanent damage to the environment and wreaking havoc on human rights. The EU must reduce extraction of natural resources by 65%, according to a new study released today by Friends of the Earth Europe and the European Environmental Bureau. [1]

The report shows that the EU is already extracting and consuming a dangerous proportion of the world’s limited resources, with serious consequences:

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  • The EU material footprint [2] is currently 14.5 tonnes per capita, about double what is considered a sustainable and just limit, and well over the global average. 
  • The EU alone already uses between 70% and 97% of the global environmentally ‘safe operating space’ related to resource extraction impacts. Any resource extraction beyond this ‘safe’ threshold threatens the stable functioning of the earth’s biophysical systems.
  • More environmental defenders are killed for opposing mining than opposing any other industry. 50 of the 212 environmental defenders killed worldwide in 2019 were campaigning to stop mining projects.

Yet European Green Deal plans are continuing on the path of ‘consumption as usual’, meaning enormous increases in mining for certain metals and minerals. For example batteries, primarily for electric vehicles, are predicted to drive up EU demand for lithium by almost 6000% by 2050. 

Supplying such demand will inevitably lead to scarcity, conflicts and destructive mining, closely resembling social and environmental harms from digging up fossil fuels. The answer here is not simply to replace cars running on fossil fuels with electric cars – it is to also reduce private car use overall. [3]

These issues demonstrate that the green transition must be used as an opportunity to tackle the root causes of the broader climate and environmental crises - an economic system which drives overconsumption and social inequities in all sectors. As an urgent first step, the EU must set a material footprint reduction target of 65%. 

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Meadhbh Bolger, resource justice campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe said: “The EU has a history of passing weak laws which fail again and again to reduce the amount of natural resources we consume, putting the remaining parts of the natural world and many communities under immense stress. The reason is simple: the laws are all predicated on economic growth, which is not compatible with a sustainable future.

“The EU needs to wake up and set a headline target to cut material use by two-thirds so that the European Green Deal doesn’t become another footnote in the history of the destruction of the planet.”

Diego Marin, associate policy officer for Environmental Justice at the European Environmental Bureau said: “Recognizing that we cannot mine our way out of the climate crisis means that we need to stop the growth frenzy. It is as if current policies were driving a bus toward a cliff edge and the passengers were arguing about whether the bus should run on electricity or fossil fuels, when the more urgent question we should be asking is how we can stop the bus from plummeting down the cliff in the first place.

“End of pipe solutions alone no longer cut it, we need to tackle the many issues with the linear take-make-use-lose economy at the very source.”

[1] The report analyses various policies under the European Green Deal including the Circular Economy Action Plan, Raw Materials Strategy, trade policies and human rights legislation. It focuses on mining of metals and metallic minerals

[2] Total consumption of fossil fuels, biomass, metals and non-metallic minerals, including embodied in imports.

[3] The mining industry and governments must also stop attempts to greenwash mining, using the fact that certain metals and minerals are key for green technologies to greenwash the metal mining industry in general and promote the nonsensical concept of ‘green mining’. Metals like copper, iron and aluminum are overwhelmingly used in construction and other industries, such as the destructive military sector. 

Friends of the Earth Europe is the largest grassroots environmental network in Europe, uniting more than 30 national organisations with thousands of local groups. We are the European arm of Friends of the Earth International. We represent the network at the heart of the European Union and campaign for sustainable solutions to benefit the planet, people and our future. Read more on the website and follow on Twitter and Facebook.

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Environment

EU Sustainable Investment Summit: President von der Leyen calls on global partners to set global standards and support sustainable investment

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This morning (7 October), European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (pictured) delivered the opening address at the EU Sustainable Investment Summit, the first annual event on sustainable finance hosted by the European Commission. In her speech, the President spoke about the current rise in energy prices: “In these very weeks, we all see how crucial it is to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels such as gas, oil and coal. So in the long term, the European Green Deal and renewables are the solution to the rising electricity prices. Every euro spent on renewable energies does help our planet. And it equally helps the consumers. But it is also an investment in the resilience of our economies. So, we have to speed up our work on the European Green Deal to become more energy independent.”

President von der Leyen identified two key challenges we need to address to boost global sustainable investment: First, how to attract more capital towards sustainable investment. Second, how to bring more countries on board, and raise the global ambition. The speech was also an occasion for her to recall Europe's commitment and leadership: “Europe can lead by the power of its example. Europe has become the home of sustainable investment. The European green bond market today is worth around €1 trillion. We have built the largest carbon market in the world, with our Emissions Trading System. And later this month, we will strengthen our leadership, when we will start issuing green bonds worth €250 billion, as part of NextGenerationEU. This is a leadership we are proud of, and we will keep consolidating.” Finally, looking ahead to the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference, the President said: “The COP26 in Glasgow will be a moment of truth for the global community. Ambitions need to be backed by concrete plans. And Europe will continue to engage, with the highest level of ambition.”

The full speech is available online, and you can watch it here.

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Environment

'Hard-won victory' - European Parliament opens EU courts to environmental defenders

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In a big win for all environmental defenders, the EU Parliament has officially opened the EU courts to environmental challenges. It follows a decade-long legal battle led by ClientEarth for more access to justice for people and NGOs.

In a final vote, a sweeping majority of MEPs agreed to amend EU access to justice law the Aarhus Regulation, enabling NGOs and individuals to challenge many more EU decisions that break environmental law than was previously possible under EU law.

Until now, only NGOs could use the Aarhus Regulation, and only to challenge a very limited number of EU decisions – such as some Commission authorisations to use chemicals.

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These restrictions have now been removed, meaning that decisions including authorisations for harmful pesticides, the limitation of emissions for diesel vehicles or the setting of fishing limits are now open to public scrutiny and challenge.

ClientEarth environmental democracy lawyer Anne Friel said:

“This is an historic moment that gives civil society a voice in the EU courts to protect the environment. Members of the public will now be able to hold EU institutions to account on their various obligations to fight climate change and biodiversity loss. It is an extra tool that will be crucial to enforce environmental laws and ensure EU decisions do not contradict the EU Green Deal.”

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The development follows a prolonged fight for more access to justice at EU level. In 2008, ClientEarth filed a complaint with the UN against the EU for its failure to comply with the Aarhus Convention, an international environmental treaty that grants access to justice rights to the public. In 2017, the UN body responsible for overseeing compliance with the Convention finally found the EU to be in breach of its international law obligations.

This reform addresses the main findings of non-compliance of the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee in that case but the battle continues.

Friel added: “This has been a hard-won victory and a legal marathon. It was only possible because the Aarhus Convention enables members of the public to hold institutions to account.”

Lawyers regret, however, that EU legislators carved out an exception for EU State aid decisions – which still cannot be challenged under the Aarhus Regulation.

Instead, the Commission has committed to prepare a study by 2022 and, “if appropriate”, related proposals by 2023. It means that until then governments can still dole out colossal sums to companies from the public purse – to fossil fuel companies, for example – without any way for the public to challenge it at EU level (where those decisions are approved).

Parties to the Aarhus Convention will gather at the upcoming Meeting of the Parties from 18-21- October 2021. At the meeting, the EU is intending to postpone the endorsement of more recent findings of the Aarhus Compliance Committee that highlight the lack of access to justice of EU State aid decisions. This would break from the established practice that all Parties accept the ACCC’s findings.

Friel said: “Unfortunately, the EU is still undermining the Convention by refusing to endorse the findings against it on state aid. By trying to obtain special treatment, the EU erodes the trust and cooperation between the parties and weakens the foundations of this international treaty. We call on the EU to lead by example and fulfil its own commitment to the rule of law.”

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Environment

Taxpayers are funding planetary breakdown: Harmful subsidies must end

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Tackling the interlocking triple crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and human rights abuses is fundamental to ensuring a safe, sustainable and just future. So why are we paying to accelerate these crises, and to make ourselves poorer in the long run? I’m talking about harmful subsidies. Not all subsidies are harmful, but many are. From fisheries, to farming, to fossil fuels, they are an invisible menace forcing us to fight the planetary emergency with one hand tied behind our back, writes Steve Trent, CEO and founder, Environmental Justice Foundation.

Fisheries

In fisheries, over 60% of subsidies are harmful, meaning they are spent on increasing fishing capacity when many fish populations are already overexploited or the target of illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing. This has huge consequences for both people and our planet. In Ghana, for instance, increased fishing by foreign trawlers has led to over half of the people employed in fisheries in Ghana’s coastal communities to go without sufficient food in the last year. Even more have seen declines in their income. There are implications for the global climate too. On the high seas, outside national jurisdictions, fishing vessels are often able to travel much further with subsidies, to areas that would otherwise be economically unviable. In fact, 43.5% of the “blue carbon” – the carbon stored in marine life ­­– that these vessels remove from the ocean comes from these areas. We depend on this very same blue carbon if we hope to bring the climate crisis to an end, and yet we are paying to destroy it.

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The World Trade Organization, under the new leadership of Director-General ​​Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, is closing in on a deal to end harmful fisheries subsidies, after decades of effort. Doing so would boost human rights around the globe, protect wildlife, and safeguard our planet against the climate crisis. Farming Nearly 90% of global farming subsidies are harmful. They fuel climate breakdown, the destruction of nature, and rampant inequality, particularly for smallholder farmers, who are often women. In 2019, US$1 million was spent on farming subsidies every minute globally, with only 1% of that being spent on environmentally beneficial projects.

The biggest subsidies are reserved for the most destructive products, such as beef and milk; the former emits more than twice as much carbon per kilogram of product than any other foodstuff. Agricultural expansion causes other problems too. Land conflicts are common, with Indigenous peoples and local communities often suffering extreme violence, land grabbing and pesticide poisoning.

This also brings the destruction of priceless ecosystems, from the forests of South-East Asia to the Cerrado grasslands of South America, along with associated extinction of wildlife and yet more contributions to global heating. The European Union is currently developing legislation to keep the products of deforestation off Europe’s supermarket shelves. If sufficiently robust, covering enough ecosystems and commodities, this legislation could be a powerful tool for promoting human rights and nature preservation around the globe. It would be even stronger if accompanied by efforts to redirect harmful farming subsidies, at home and abroad, into sustainable agriculture which benefits both people and the planet.

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Fossil fuels

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said of fossil fuel subsidies that "what we are doing is using taxpayers’ money – which means our money – to boost hurricanes, to spread droughts, to melt glaciers, to bleach corals. In one word – to destroy the world." And we are doing it on a vast scale. G20 governments spent US$584 billion each year between 2017 and 2019 on fossil fuel subsidies, and their support for fossil fuels in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, far from a green recovery, is moving in the wrong direction by increasing support.

Fossil fuel subsidies outweigh the support given to renewable energy 20 times over. Whether it’s tax breaks for fossil fuel companies or governments paying to clean up the environmental destruction they cause, these subsidies give a tiny handful of companies artificial support to make more money while they further accelerate the climate crisis. EU officials have rightly identified that these subsidies undermine Europe’s ambitions of reaching net zero. The solution is clear and simple: end all public finance for fossil fuels immediately, redirect the power of government spending towards renewables, and deliver the energy transformation we need to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis.

Crossroads

We have nine years, according to the IPCC, to make dramatic reductions in our carbon emissions to stand a chance of avoiding the worst impacts of the climate crisis. This crisis is a humanitarian one, wrapped in a cruel injustice where those who did the least to cause it overwhelmingly suffer its greatest and earliest impacts. We cannot afford to continue paying to make the world less safe and more unjust.

Continuing subsidies for planet-destroying industries also locks us into the same economic models we need to leave behind, stranding assets and finance which could otherwise be used to start a surge of good, sustainable, green jobs. Harmful subsidies make no environmental, economic or moral sense. To take on the planetary emergency, and build a safer, more sustainable, fairer world, we must redirect the vast power of public finance for good, turning harmful subsidies into the financial muscle so urgently needed to get us to a real zero carbon economy and restore the natural systems we all ultimately depend upon.

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