EU Science Hub

Mapping the role of Raw Materials in Sustainable Development Goals


The UN 2030 Agenda (UN General Assembly, 2015) established 17 Goals for implementing the three dimensions of sustainable development i.e. society, environment and economy, and strengthening peaceful societies. The EU, which has a well-established development policy in place, has aligned to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) framework and has published a set of indicators to monitor them at EU level (Eurostat, 2017a). Ubiquitous in modern societies and essential to economic growth and well-being, raw materials (RM) can contribute to SDGs in different ways. The production of materials, indeed, can generate severe environmental and social impacts. However, their use in, e.g. high tech applications, transport and energy infrastructures, construction sector, medical devices etc. demonstrates their crucial role for economic development and human wellbeing. The EU strategy on non-energy, non-agricultural raw materials tackles the challenges related to these sectors, and aim at fostering a secure and sustainable supply from domestic sources and international markets, and increasing the contribution of secondary materials. To support this policy, an EU knowledge base has been developed by DG GROW and DG JRC, including the Raw Materials Information System and the Raw Materials Scoreboard. The latter is a collection of indicators on several aspects related to the RM sectors, encompassing economic, environmental, social considerations and aspects related to governance and security of supply. In this study, based on literature review and experts’ opinion, we analyse how raw materials affect or contribute to the SDGs, considering the whole value chain (extraction, manufacturing, use, end-of-life) of biotic and abiotic materials. We also provide examples of European policies and actions that are responding to the issues of concern highlighted in the analysis. In addition, we assess to what extent the SDGs are reflected into the RM Scoreboard, which monitors the main challenges of raw materials production in the EU. Circular economy is an area where the Scoreboard appears to be very advanced, including various indicators and aspects. Environmental aspects have a partial coverage as impacts on terrestrial and marine ecosystems are not fully addressed. Other areas for potential improvements relates to gender equality and inequalities within and among countries. The efforts of the RM industry in promoting sustainable development could also be monitored in the Scoreboard, acknowledging Goal 17 on the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development.