September 2020 – European Raw Materials Alliance kickoff meeting
Peter Moser (Vice-rector of Montanuniversität Leoben was invited to the European Raw Materials Alliance kickoff meeting to give the commitee members a perspective from a research point of view:
“The European Raw Materials Alliance (ERMA) is the first action of the Critical Raw Materials Action Plan of the European Commission. Research and development can play a vital role in the implementation of this by developing the necessary knowledge and theoretical frameworks that the approaches are based on, such as we have done in the past, like design of value chains, material efficiency of final products, etc. This initiative is highly appreciated and needed, however, systemically it is clear that in the future this alliance must expand its scope beyond building resilience for only value chains of specific materials. Society is undergoing a massive transformation currently, a transformation that needs to be successful for future generations to be able to meet their needs and live in favourable ecological conditions. This means that we cannot tackle challenges in our old conventional ways but that we need to transform our systems. Innovative technologies and change of human behaviour are the basis for meeting the ambitious climate targets of the Green Deal and the implementation of the sustainable development goals. In the following I will address the necessary research and development needs as a pre-requisite for this transformation because the kind of challenges we are facing are entirely new and we need new flexible and systemic ways to react to them. On the one hand, we need to create the knowledge basis for innovative technologies, alternative societal systems and responsible human behaviour. On the other hand, we also need to address the transformative needs of the R&D system itself to be fit for tackling these societal challenges effectively. Successful R&D in this context grows in a suitable biotope that we have to form – a biotope that attracts the most talented and creative researchers and provides them with a working environment where enthusiasm and inspiration is promoted, and stronger than the frustration from the frequent lack of R&D resources and bureaucracy.
In a nutshell:
- we urgently need more enthusiastic visionary people and
- we need sufficient resources for researchers to work efficiently and effectively
- we need simplicity and less bureaucracy
In terms of people it is necessary that education and research work closely and in synergy so that our long-term human capacity needs are met. In terms of funding it is essential to provide stable and long-term funding frameworks to promote effective and visionary R&D environments. In terms of simplicity and low bureaucracy it is important to rethink how funding frameworks work. It is crucial to have uniform, simple and aligned rules across different frameworks.
The three ingredients for creating a suitable R&D biotope itself are:
- First: The acknowledgement, awareness and conception that R&D is a solution provider for meeting the ambitious climate targets. This means that industry needs to be committed on a much higher level in the future to participate in R&D and long-term invest in it. Furthermore, we need to promote the image of the researcher as an indispensable puzzle piece of today’s challenges.
- Second: The acknowledgement, awareness and conception that economic growth has planetary boundaries and that new technologies and societal systems build the basis for what we call resources and impact de-coupling, as conceptualized in the SDGs. We need to directly link the question of raw materials production to the question of raw materials consumption. Therefore, we have to evaluate the value of technologies not only from an economic perspective but also from an ecologic point of view. This takes systemic approaches which is only possible through massive interdisciplinary collaboration.
- Third: The acknowledgement, awareness and conception that we need to adapt and transform our R&D approaches and systems to make them more flexible and stable and thus fit for the challenges we are tackling.
In such type of new approaches and systems we have to implement much more the idea of short-term path finder projects, which upon success are followed by long term initiatives. A good first example in this direction is the European University initiative where a three-year starting period is followed by a long-term period of 10plus years of fixed financing, an approach that really promotes depth and excellence.
In conclusion, the societal transformation can be achieved on the basis of
- a visionary research agenda,
- enthusiastic and innovative researchers,
- a supportive organisational research framework and
- collaboration across sectors.”
Find the ERMA Agenda here