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New approaches for managing critical raw materials are essential for sustainable development

Many low-carbon technologies require vast amounts of critical raw materials. Renewable energy, battery storage, nuclear energy, energy efficiency, and carbon capture and storage all need critical raw materials.

Discussions on critical raw materials typically focus on demand, yet broader considerations of the resource-base, production and supply are also needed, according to experts participating in the Workshop on Critical Raw Materials for Sustainable Energy Systems at the Ninth International Forum on Energy for Sustainable Development, Kiev, Ukraine, 12 November 2018.

It will be essential to understand the geopolitics of current production and supply of critical raw materials and to explore widening the supply base if energy security is to be assured. It will also be necessary to consider the socio-economic, environmental and technological issues that are related to the production and supply of critical raw materials. Experts concluded that an integrated global approach to management, production and use of uranium and critical raw materials required for low-carbon energy technologies is a matter of urgency.

“The United Nations Framework Classification for Resources (UNFC) enables comprehensive consideration of the issues associated with resources needed for sustainable development”, said Mr. Georgii Rudko, Chairman, State Commission of Ukraine on Mineral Resources opening the workshop. “The expansion of UNFC as a resource management tool, the United Nations Resource Management System (UNRMS), enables implementation of new mechanisms for evaluation of both quantitative and socio-economic factors of the resource potential for critical raw materials”.

The “people, planet and prosperity” triangle of critical raw material resource management provides decision-makers with technical advice on options for and benefits of the use of the resources. This integrative focus also sets out the essential pathways to achieve a less than 2°C target while addressing public health and safety in urban communities, where there is an urgent need to tackle urban air pollution. Critical resource management pathways to prosperity require a deeper understanding of the land footprint, environmental impacts and issues related to the health of workers and populations.

“An adequate resource base of uranium exists, but this does not mean we should stop exploring and assessing these resources”, said Martin Fairclough, Uranium Resource Specialist, International Atomic Energy Agency. “Because, if you stop these assessments, any resource could become critical.”

“Many countries have shown a strong interest in improving their approach to sustainable resource management”, said Scott Foster, Director of Sustainable Energy, UNECE. “We stand by to support to all such requests for adoption of UNFC-UNRMS to reimagine resource management in a manner that will be appropriate to meet the uncertainties of the future.

Experts from various countries and international organizations shared their views and experiences in identification, production and use of critical materials such as rare earth elements and uranium. The overwhelming conclusion is that improving the efficiency in the production and consumption in creating the services required for sustainable development and climate change mitigation should be a high priority. This can only be achieved through a concerted and effective public-private partnership where the public sector sets the framework conditions that allow the industry to deploy the required capabilities in ways that the capital market can finance.

The workshop was jointly organized by UNECE, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the State Commission of Ukraine on Mineral Resources.

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