Mine games

Rare earths are to the 21st century what coal was to the 19th and oil to the 20th. Our everyday electronics - and Europe's climate goals - depend on them. But China controls almost all supply chains. Can Europe free itself from this dependence?

October 2023

Your mobile has them. Your laptop as well. They are likely in the toothbrush you used this morning. E-scooters are full of them. So are electric cars.

Rare earths and other minerals are essential for wind and solar power installations, defence, and for the gadgets that we now rely upon in our daily lives. The demand for critical raw materials is going to skyrocket in the years ahead, far beyond current supply.

There is no “climate neutrality” ahead without them. This implies more mining than ever before. “We, eight billion of us, will use more metal than the 108 billion people who lived before us,” according to Guillaume Pitrón, author of the book Rare Metals War.

The political headache is that Europe depends heavily on imports of these critical raw materials, primarily from China.
European dependency on Russian gas was a wake-up call last year, when Russia invaded Ukraine. Now the EU urgently wants to reduce the similar dependency on Chinese supplies of rare earth elements, lithium, bismuth, magnesium and a series of other critical minerals.

European consumers have for decades not had to be much concerned with the environmental destruction and pollution that often comes with mining. Now, governments haste to revive mining across the continent – and to fast-track processes that otherwise may take a decade or more.

Investigate Europe reporters have unearthed what lies beneath these “green mining” ambitions. We have broken into a mountain of dilemmas, challenges and questions that come with Europe’s pressing need for minerals.

To what extent will Europe be practically able to revive a mining industry that it has long abandoned? How can governments secure social acceptance for new mines if they are to fast-track permit processes? What kind of autonomy can come in an industry dominated by global companies?
And are there really no other ways for Europe to go green and save the climate, than by destroying environments?

Read more on the findings from Mine games on our site or with media partners below. And here you can also listen to a podcast from our reporters in Hungary, Greece and the UK discussing Europe's hunt for critical ra materials.

This investigation is supported by Journalismfund Europe’s Investigation Grants for Environmental Journalism.

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