Europe wants the energy transition – but it requires raw materials for solar cells and electric cars, including chrome, platinum and iron ore from South Africa. In February, Hannah Pilgrim met with South African organizations representing miners and local residents. The 30-year-old coordinates the working group network AK Rohstoffe at the NGO Powershift. She demands that the EU should ensure higher standards and a say for those affected whenever it sources so-called critical raw materials from the Global South.
Pilgrim studied social sciences and human geography, worked for NGOs on hunger crises and was involved in the Hambach Forest against coal mining. Her life’s work, however, revolves around metallic raw materials and rare earth elements, Pilgrim says. These could soon be more important than oil and gas, because they are used in many technologies that Europe urgently needs for digitization and the energy transition.
Holes as deep as power poles
“These are not just raw materials that need to be extracted,” Pilgrim says. In South Africa, she has visited villages where mining has caused sinkholes as deep as power poles. “There simply is no such thing as responsible or green mining per se,” Pilgrim says. But the EU can ensure higher social and environmental standards in supply chains, she says.
Pilgrim also believes that the local population needs to have a say: “Not just information campaigns, but also the right to say no in case of doubt. After all, mining reproduces neocolonial structures in many places. For those affected, wounds from past decades are still open. “Companies have not provided sufficient compensation, and in some cases have not even apologized,” Pilgrim criticizes. “We can’t expect people to just trust them now.”
Those affected see Europe under obligation
She attended the Alternative Mining Indaba in Cape Town – a conference for organizations representing people affected by mining. They have high expectations for Europe, for the Green Deal and the planned Critical Raw Materials Act. The EU wants to use these to secure the supply of so-called critical raw materials. Above all, the member states want to diversify the supply chains and become less dependent on individual states.
For Hannah Pilgrim, the focus is too much on the supply of metals and rare earth elements, and not enough on European demand – which, she says, is far too high. The EU must set itself the goal of using fewer critical raw materials through lower consumption and more recycling, she says. This is what Powershift demands in a joint paper with organizations such as BUND and the Heinrich Böll Foundation. After all, compared to the rest of the world, the European population consumes far too many raw materials, Pilgrim says. “This is also about global justice.” Jana Hemmersmeier