On 9 December, the EU Council and the European Parliament reached a provisional political agreement on a proposal for a new regulation that aims to create a circular economy for the batteries sector. The proposed legislation will apply to all batteries, including electric vehicle batteries, and regulate the entire life cycle of a battery for the first time. This will ensure that they are sustainable throughout their supply chains, from design and production to reuse and recycling.
The new regulation will have huge significance for the deep sea as it includes mandatory recycling targets for raw materials, including for cobalt and nickel – minerals also found in the deep sea – which must reach material recovery rates of 90% by 2027 and 95% 2031. This is of major importance, particularly in view of the massive development of electric mobility, and effectively counters the claims of deep-sea mining prospectors that we have no choice but to open the ocean to mining in order to power the necessary shift to renewable energy.
The DSCC welcomes this provisional agreement and urges the EU Council and European Parliament to officially endorse and formally adopt the new regulation as soon as possible.
By creating a circular economy for batteries that targets all stages of the life cycle, from design to waste treatment, the EU will greatly reduce demand for cobalt, nickel and other raw materials used for batteries. The new regulation will also ensure the sustainability of the battery industry by setting tight due diligence rules that require operators to verify the source of all raw materials used for batteries placed on the market. Companies will need to pay attention to a series of non-exhaustive environmental and social risks, including biodiversity.
The new EU regulation will apply to all battery categories from 2025 (after a 24-month implementation period). With this initiative, the EU is keeping to the pledge made in 2020 by EU Commissioner for environment, oceans and fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevicius, that: “The sustainability of batteries has to grow hand in hand with their increasing numbers on the EU market.”
This important step by the EU comes just weeks after the release of new analysis by SINTEF, showing that demand for minerals required for the transition away from fossil fuels can be cut by 58% through innovation in renewable technology and circular economy measures — eliminating the need for deep-sea mining.
This new agreement further underlines that shifting to a low-carbon economy need not take place at the expense of our ocean. We do not need to strip mine fragile deep ocean ecosystems to power a green transition. Minerals required are within reach if we continue to invest in three main areas: innovation in battery technology; increased reuse and recycling capacities; and the sustainable extraction of minerals from terrestrial sources under greatly improved environmental and social governance (ESG) frameworks. It is vital that we invest in recycling plants and technologies for rare earth elements and other non-renewable natural resources needed for renewable energy systems and battery storage in order to reduce the need for virgin-mined metals to meet future demand.
Deep-sea mining could cause permanent loss of biodiversity in some of the most biodiverse and scientifically important ecosystems on Earth, posing significant risks to both nature and humanity. The proposed new EU regulation brings us a big step closer to the goal of making the prospect of deep-sea mining not only undesirable but also entirely unnecessary.