On 22 March, EURACOAL participated in the VII Silesia 2030 conference, hosted by MEP Grzegorz Tobiszowski in the European Parliament, Brussels. The event, chaired by Tomasz Zjawiony, President of the Regional Chamber of Commerce in Katowice, examined the growing global demand for critical raw materials (CRMs) and rare earth elements (REEs). These are essential inputs to build the component parts of a clean energy system, as envisaged by the European Green Deal, but their supply is often concentrated in the hands of just a few, non-EU producers, notably China, and with only around 1% recycled.
Exploitation of the EU’s own resources would have clear strategic benefits, and could give new opportunities for coal mining companies. Here, EURACOAL President Dr. Tomasz Rogala highlighted the skills and knowledge of the European coal sector. He recalled his earlier warning, back in 2018, of a growing overdependence on fossil fuel imports – oil, gas and coal – with much from Russia. At the time, his call for action fell on deaf ears. Now, he foresaw an even greater import dependence for CRMs and REEs. To avoid repeating past mistakes, Dr. Rogala wanted to see more consideration given to the costs and impacts on material demand of a green energy transition: a twenty-fold increase in lithium demand by 2050, and similarly for other materials such as copper, neodymium, nickel and cobalt, would mean sky-high prices, he said.
This week, he called on EU policymakers to draw lessons from the Nord Stream 2 saga with more self-reliance. In the case of coal, which would be needed during the years of transition, he spoke out against the proposed Methane Regulation. Coal exporters to the EU would not be required to do anything, unlike the Polish coal mines which together account for only 1% of emissions from the global coal sector which reported a record output of 8.4 billion tonnes in 2022 and continues to grow in Asia. Dr. Rogala sought flexibility in this EU regulation to avoid the premature liquidation of coal assets that are needed at least until alternatives can offer equivalent security.
Mr. Tobiszowski highlighted how the European Green Deal was presented as a policy to “save the planet”, yet comprised mainly measures at the EU level. As such, it would inevitably lead to the “offshoring” of polluting industries. He called for more realism with a strategy that protects EU assets. Speaking by video link from Warsaw, the Polish Secretary of State (and Government Plenipotentiary for the transformation of energy companies and coal mining), Marek Wesoły, spoke of his country’s potential to mine CRMs in support of a clean energy transition to renewables and nuclear power. Meanwhile, he wished to avoid any greater dependence on expensive imported fuels.
After exploring global CRM and REE resources, Prof. Adam Smoliński, Scientific Secretary at the Central Mining Institute (GIG), highlighted the importance of coking coal as a critical raw material in products crucial to the European Green Deal: a 3 MW offshore wind turbine, for example, requires 250 tonnes of coking coal. He illustrated the scale of resource mining in Australia, Chile, China, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Indonesia, with only a handful of countries mining sustainably in terms of local environmental impacts, carbon emissions and social welfare.
The former Prime Minster of Poland, MEP Beata Szydło, thanked speakers and offered her closing remarks. She called for a less ideological approach to the European Green Deal and more hard-headed realism to maintain EU competitiveness. She aimed at an energy transition that benefits all citizens and regions, without outsourcing environmental problems to distant countries. Hence, she said, a slower pace of transition might be needed to contain the costs of everyday goods and services such as cars and energy.
The event was attended by members of the EU Affairs Committee of the Polish Sejm, including its chairman, Kacper Płażyński, who promised to carefully examine the Commission proposal for a Critical Raw Materials Act.