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Shifting minerals sands – a wind of change for minerals financing and education

IRTC training certification expert Gijsbert Wierink reflects on on the Green Industrial Plan

We are living now in a decisive time – basically the decade that will decide on whether we are going to be successful in fighting climate change or not. And we know […] that in the next years the shape of the net-zero economy and where it is located will be decided.”

These were the opening words of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivering her press release [1] on the Green Deal Industrial Plan for the Net-Zero Age” [2] on February 1, 2023.

President Von der Leyen underlined the existential threat we are facing with climate change. To address this threat we must change as a society. Great transitions in societies have almost always been associated with energy transitions [3] and energy transitions are inevitably materials transitions. At the same time it is clear that the geostrategic landscape is changing rapidly and many governments are responding to, and indeed part of, this change. The United States released a dedicated Critical Minerals Strategy [4] in early 2022 and the United Kingdom [5] and other nations quickly followed. To finance this transition, in August of 2022 the United States released the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which frees up an incredible USD 392 billion for climate and clean energy projects [6]. Japan, the UK, Canada, China, and others have also put forward their investment plans [2] that are usually over EUR 100 billion in size.

As the old adage goes – follow the money. The European Commission stresses its focus on speed, predictability, and a targeted approach. In addition, (re)building the necessary skills in the EU is one of the focal points on the agenda. These are encouraging signals for business and quality of life in the EU.

The European Green Deal Industrial Plan [1, 2] consists of four pillars:

  1. Speed: Conducive regulatory environment for the net zero industries
  2. Financing: National and EU funding
  3. Skills: Ensuring the proper skills for the green transition are available
  4. Trade: An ambitious trade agenda to strengthen #supplychains, create jobs, and develop industry

The European Union shows strong commitment to the development of a resilient and competitive Net-Zero Industry with a series of financing mechanisms:

  • REPowerEU [7]: Investments in green projects in the  EU Member States;
  • InvestEU [8]: Focus on innovative projects and pioneering companies. It catalyzes private investment through guarantees to the EIB and the National Banks;
  • The Innovation Fund [9]: Production subsidies for technologies; and
  • The Sovereignty Fund [10]: Focus on upstream research and innovation

Further, the NextGenerationEU [11] recovery plan entails the EUR 750 billion Recovery and Resilience Fund (RRF) for the EU Member States, 37% of which is earmarked to aid the Green Transition. REPowerEU, InvestEU, and the Innovation Fund are currently being rolled out or will start in the near future. The Sovereignty Fund is an important mechanism as well and needs more time.

The European Commission is currently concluding trade agreements with Mexico, Chile, New Zealand, and Australia and there is progress in negotiations with India and Indonesia. The political debate in the European Council is on 9 February and the legal proposals will be on the table mid-March.

Regulatory efficiency, financing, and trade are all things we can work on now. The third pillar of the European Green Deal Industrial Plan, however, is skills. Skills take time to (re)build and require the right environment to form a sustainable knowledge base. This is the reason initiatives such as the Federation of European Mineral Programs (FEMP), the EMerald Resources Engineering program, and EIT RawMaterials Academy are so important.

The energy and materials transitions are needed to fight climate change and help sustain a high quality of life. This requires us to make the right choices and to have the freedom to make these choices. The right skills and education can help build this strategic autonomy. In the words of Epictetus [15]. “We must not believe the many, who say that only free people ought to be educated, but we should rather believe the philosophers who say that only the educated are free.” Education, education, education.

There are many challenges in fighting climate change and maintaining quality of life and competitiveness in the EU. At least political and financial commitment are there. Just follow the money.


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