It is an established fact of life that raw materials remain essential for the sustainable functioning of today’s European economy, and society. Up to 30 million EU jobs are considered dependent on raw materials like construction aggregates, metallic elements and industrial minerals. These essential natural resources play a crucial role in providing products that meet the needs of modern society, but the extraction processes associated with the supply of such valuable resources can have detrimental environmental impacts.
Impacts related to dust, noise, vibration and traffic can all affect local areas where mining and extraction takes place. Landscape, ecology and biodiversity impacts are also notable consequences of raw material supply chains. The challenges involved in ensuring environmentally sustainable supplies of raw materials for the EU economy are therefore multiple, complex, and often interrelated.
The EU’s raw material initiative recognises these challenges. Launched in November 2008, the Commission initiative promotes actions in Member States that include reducing consumption of primary raw materials, increasing resource efficiency and encouraging more recycling. It also promotes the exchange of best practices in land use planning and notes the importance of reconciling extraction activities located in or near Natura 2000 areas with environmental protection.
The implementation of the Natura 2000 legislation is of particular relevance for the EU’s extractive industry, but concerns have been raised about the sometimes competing objectives between the protection of Natura 2000 areas and the development of extractive activities in Europe. In response to these concerns, the Commission will soon be publishing new dedicated guidance for non-energy extracting industries (NEEI) on the implementation of the Natura 2000 Habitats Directive.
The guidance will feature examples of best practice approaches to the management of Natura 2000 sites and conservation of biodiversity. A wide variety of good practices exists around Europe and an interesting collection of these were showcased recently during European Minerals Day, which this year paid special attention to biodiversity topics.
Some 14 different biodiversity case studies were highlighted with aims to underscore the EU minerals sector’s commitment to supporting biodiversity. LIFE project activities were included in the case studies and LIFE has made some important contributions to improving the environmental sustainability of raw material extraction activities.
Many of the LIFE project actions in this area relate to mines, quarries and gravel pits. A small selection of interesting examples includes: