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ROUNDUP: Key environment and energy votes in parliament

Power Copyright AP Photo
Copyright AP Photo
By Robert Hodgson
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The European Parliament plenary of 2023 in Strasbourg from 11-14 December saw the legislature wave through a new law designed to reduce Europe’s geopolitically precarious dependence on China for essential raw materials, and a trio of resolutions on green themes.

Critical Raw Materials


MEPs rubber stamped on 12 December the new Critical Raw Materials Act, whose text was agreed on 13 November in back-room ‘trilogue’ negotiations with the EU Council representing the governments’ side. The law sets out a list of 34 materials seen as crucial for furthering Europe’s green energy transition, with 17 classified as ‘strategic’ after the EU’s legislative bodies added aluminium to lithium, cobalt and other essential elements in the European Commission’s proposed list.

By 2030, the co-legislators agreed the EU should have in place the capacity to recycle at least 25% of annual strategic raw material consumption - a ten-point increase on the Commission's proposal. They backed the targets of 10% and 40% respectively for domestic extraction (where reserves allow) and processing capacity by the same date, with a stipulation that no third country should supply more than 65% of EU needs for any given material.

Green groups are nervous about the potential ramping up of mining operations, potentially in nature reserves, and expressed regret that the law did not focus more on reducing consumption. “The EU and member states must prioritise realistic strategies to reduce raw material demand, thus lessening criticality and mitigating environmental and social risks,” said Robin Roels, spokesperson for the Raw Materials Coalition of environmental NGOs.

Small Modular Reactors

France and its allies have been pushing hard for nuclear power to be recognised as a key technology for meeting EU climate and energy security goals. Small modular reactors (SMRs) are a largely untried technology whose proponents claim has the potential for a rapid, distributed roll-out of fresh nuclear generation capacity, with much of Europe’s ageing nuclear fleet of reactors ripe for decommissioning and electricity demand set to increase as fossil fuel use declines.

The parliament adopted an ‘own initiative’ report by MEP Franc Bogovič (EPP, Slovenia) on 12 December that declares a need “to explore the potential of SMRs in providing the EU with a reliable, affordable and on-demand supply of electricity, with the potential capacity to provide a firm baseload of clean electricity, heat and steam for industry and households”.

The Brussels based lobby group Nuclear Europe said the “overwhelming support” shown by MEPs meant SMRs had “gained the attention they deserve”, with the resolution adopted by 409 votes to 173 with 31 abstentions. The liberal Renew, centre-right EPP and other right-wing groups voted in favour, the Greens/EFA and The Left opposed, while the Socialists & Democrats were split, with the majority opposing.

Auto-workers need same support as coal miners in green transition

Also on 12 December, MEPs backed a report by Susana Solís Pérez (Renew, Spain) calling for an overhaul of the EU’s system of ‘structural funds’, intended to promote economic and social cohesion across the bloc, amid the ‘automotive, green and digital transitions’ currently under way. Climate policy legislation should be accompanied by ‘comprehensive territorial impact assessments in order to identify the repercussions these measures may have on regions in transition’, according to the resolution, adopted by an overwhelming cross-party majority of 548 votes to 33 with 18 abstentions.

The Just Transition Fund targeting coal regions during the energy transition should be extended post-2027 to help communities dependent of the automotive industry, the resolution states. “We cannot set ambitious climate objectives such as the end of the combustion engine car by 2035 without giving the regions affected support via European funds,” Solis Pérez said.

EU development policy and mining in the global south

The Strasbourg plenary saw a MEPs back by 357 votes to 179 on 13 December a resolution drafted by lawmaker Barry Andrews (Renew, Ireland) on the potential role for EU development policy to ameliorate the environmental and social conditions pertaining to extractive industries in the developing world. It calls on the European Commission to draw up a voluntary ‘EU Code of Conduct on Responsible Investment in Extractive Industries in Developing Countries’. The parliament noted ‘with deep concern that if not managed and mitigated properly, increased demand for critical raw materials will lead to negative environmental and social impacts’.

The resolution urges action in a range of areas, from child labour to a further call for the EU executive upon to propose a G20 initiative to ensure local communities benefit from the mineral wealth they possess. In a week where the EU adopted a landmark law on corporate due diligence, the parliament also agreed there was ‘an urgent need’ for a globally binding UN treaty.

“They say that cobalt is the new oil,” Andrews said after the vote. “I think of what this means for Africa, and it makes me uneasy.” The COP28 deal to transition from fossil fuels made it yet more urgent to ensure the mistakes made in a colonial past are not repeated, he said.

Banking on hydrogen

Touted as a key means to store and transfer energy from a growing number of wind farms and solar panels feeding into the European grid, the European Parliament reiterated on 14 December its position that ‘the only sustainable for of hydrogen is renewable hydrogen’. Lawmakers accepted, however, that ‘low carbon’ hydrogen, such as that produced from natural gas using carbon capture and storage (CCS) to sequester the resultant CO2 emissions could be used for an unspecified transitional period.

MEPs adopted by 418 votes to 44 with 59 abstentions a report by MEP Robert Hajšel (S&D, Slovakia) welcoming the European Commission’s recent ‘European Hydrogen Bank’ initiative, where €3 bn from the EU Innovation Fund are being used to support green hydrogen production in a series of auctions. But more is needed in light of huge subsidies on offer to the sector in the US, the parliament agreed. “If the EU wants to become a competitive global player, we need robust financing, and in this context, the initial budget of €3 bn for the EHB is not enough,” Hajšel said. His report calls on the European Commission to increase funding. The EU executive is not bound by the parliamentary resolution, but it has three months to give a reasoned response.

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