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Welcome address by Commissioner Thierry Breton at the 8th annual high-level conference of the European Innovation Partnership on Raw Materials

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC), gepubliceerd op donderdag 18 november 2021.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to the High Level Conference of the European Innovation Partnership on Raw Materials.

I regret that I cannot attend in person for this eighth edition.

I do - however - believe that this year's Raw Materials Week and today's conference allow for inspiring discussions.

New industrial policy: change in approach to become more assertive and less naïve

Raw materials are key enablers of the green and digital transition and of the recovery.

Access to raw materials is also at the core of the European industrial leadership.

When I took office, there was a real need to change our approach to industrial policy.

It was urgent for Europe to become more assertive and be less naïve when it comes to dealing with strategic dependencies.

Thanks to our work on critical raw materials action plan and on the updated industrial strategy, we now have a much better understanding on where Europe's strategic dependencies are.

Just to name a few here:

  • Rare earths used in permanent magnets traction motors for electric vehicles and windmills;
  • Magnesium for the production of aluminum and steel for automotive and electronics;
  • Lithium and synthetic graphite, both indispensable for the production of electric batteries.

Future prospects and another lesson from COVID-19

Moreover, we should not forget that the demand for some of these raw materials will increase exponentially and globally in the coming years.

For example, the demand for lithium, needed for batteries, could increase almost 10 times.

Production of lithium will go from 43.000 tonnes in 2017 to 415.000 tonnes by 2050!

We are in a similar situation with permanent magnets where the EU demand is expected to at least double by 2030.

A higher demand means possible tensions and shortages.

Reducing environmental and carbon footprint of the extraction and processing of raw materials will ensure net benefits of clean technologies needed for decarbonisation.

Transition pathways to accompany the decarbonisation

Transforming our industry to address climate change is an absolute necessity, both economic and social.

Inaction is not an option. The recent COP26 summit in Glasgow made it clear.

European ambition is set. Reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030 (compared to 1990), climate neutrality by 2050.

However, this transition is all but a seamless one.

This is why, when we updated our industrial strategy last May, I insisted on introducing transition pathways for industrial ecosystem.

It was extremely important to launch the process of the transition pathway rapidly. We did it in September for energy-intensive industries.

However, this transition pathway needs to be co-created. This is why I count on your active involvement!

Means at our disposal

To make the transition happen, we also need to foster innovation. This year, under Horizon Europe calls, we are channeling approximately 300 million euros towards innovative and more sustainable raw materials projects.

In parallel, we must ensure that our innovation potential is matched with the right skills to drive transformation.

The capacity of the European Innovation Partnership on Raw Materials to bring together businesses, academia and research will play a decisive role.

I also take this opportunity to thank EIT Raw Materials for its continuous involvement in driving the European Raw Materials Alliance.

The Alliance recently published an action plan on rare earth permanent magnets. The 14 industrial projects that the Alliance identified are an ambitious step towards greater resilience.

Developing strategic partnerships with third countries is another tool we have at our disposal.

This year in June, we concluded our first raw materials partnership. It was with Canada. We are also working closely with our neighbors - Norway, Ukraine and Serbia - as well as with countries in Africa and Latin America.

Conclusions

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am also confident that we can pool all our energy and our resources to develop domestic industrial capacities.

Today's conference is a strong signal of our readiness to work together and to invest our time and money to address the challenges facing us.

Your active involvement in the European Raw Materials Alliance and the EIT Raw Materials community is another demonstration of this.

I would like to thank you once again and I wish you rich and productive discussions.


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