Global Call for Sustainable Management of Critical Raw Materials Amidst Surging Demand

As the world undergoes a profound shift towards electrification, the demand for critical raw materials (CRM), including rare earth minerals crucial for renewable energy technologies, has surged. In response to heightened demand, geopolitical uncertainties impacting supply chains, and growing environmental and social concerns associated with CRM extraction, all five United Nations Regional Commissions, along with international experts, have issued a joint call for urgent action at COP28 to ensure the expansion of CRM does not compromise sustainable development.

Tatiana Molcean, Executive Secretary of UNECE, underscored the pivotal role of CRM in achieving the decarbonization goals outlined in the Paris Agreement. She emphasized the responsibility of leaders and industries to ensure the sustainable extraction and use of these materials. Molcean highlighted existing tools, such as the UN Framework Classification for Resources and UN Resource Management System, along with UN treaties, to address environmental and human rights issues in CRM practices.

Rising Demand and Economic Significance:
Projections indicate a 90% surge in Lithium demand over the next two decades, while Nickel and Cobalt are expected to rise by 60-70%. Additionally, Copper and other rare earth minerals face a projected 40% increase in demand by 2030, as indicated by the IEA net-zero emissions forecast.

Despite their economic importance, contributing to the GDP of 81 countries (25% of global GDP), supporting 50% of the world’s population, and involving nearly 70% of those living in extreme poverty, the current use of these resources is far from sustainable.

Environmental and Social Concerns:
Forecasts suggest a tripling of demand for these materials by 2030, with the world’s material footprint expected to double by 2060. Extraction and processing activities currently account for over 90% of biodiversity loss and water stress, contributing to half of global greenhouse gas emissions.

High-level discussions at COP28 emphasized the need for extraordinary efforts to ensure an inclusive transition that respects human rights, worker well-being, and environmental conservation. The circular economy, effective governance, diversity, innovation, finance and investment, and transparency were highlighted as essential components for a sustainable supply of CRMs, according to the UN Working Group on Transforming the Extractive Industries for Sustainable Development.

UN Tools for Sustainable Development:
The UN Framework Classification for Resources (UNFC) was emphasized as a common language and standard for categorizing, managing, and reporting raw material, energy, and mineral resources, including CRMs. The global use of UNFCs is on the rise, with applications in renewable energy projects and adherence by regions like the EU and Africa.

The UN Resource Management System (UNRMS), based on UNFC, provides guidelines aligned with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement, aiming to balance economic development, environmental sustainability, and social responsibility. ECOSOC’s recognition further positions UNRMS as a valuable global tool.

Legislation for Environmental and Human Rights Protection:
To address social and environmental concerns related to CRM expansion, countries can leverage UN Multilateral Environmental Agreements. Treaties such as the Aarhus Convention and Espoo Convention facilitate public participation, information access, and justice in environmental matters. Special mechanisms safeguard environmental defenders, addressing risks associated with mining and resource projects.

In conclusion, the global discourse calls for coordinated international action to manage CRM sustainably, emphasizing the importance of adopting responsible practices, respecting human rights, and safeguarding the environment.



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