The EU set out its goals for decarbonization in the EU Green Deal, which include achieving Net Zero by 2050, and reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030 (compared to 1990 levels).
Ensuring the supply in renewable energy needed to achieve these goals will require a sharp increase in production, and a more responsible use of critical raw materials. Whilst recycling can provide an increasing portion of these materials, recycling alone cannot meet the projected demand, which implies that further mining will be required if the EU is to meet its climate goals.
Sourcing raw materials from inside the EU where suitable environmental, social and political regulations could be implemented may be instrumental in securing an ethical provision of metals. However, mineral projects face complex challenges in the EU.
These challenges include the technical (for example, we need a precise knowledge of the whereabouts of subsurface mineral deposits on the continent), the environmental (for example, we need to develop the least invasive forms of exploration to minimise impacts to the environment) and the social (for example, there is a lack of social acceptance of mineral exploration across Europe.)
The purpose of the VECTOR project is to explore these challenges. The consortium of 18 partners aims to understand the origin, connections and complexities of the challenges and consequently to develop solutions that may be used to address them. A major objective is to include all stakeholders, including the often overlooked and underappreciated general public, in a dialogue about the sourcing of critical raw materials within Europe. The project partners will investigate potential solutions that incorporate all the perspectives, address environmental concerns, and solve technical challenges resulting in pathways towards a sustainable, responsible mineral exploration in Europe, which can serve as a reference for the rest of the world.
VECTORS ETHICS COMMITMENT
The VECTOR consortium is committed to ensuring the highest level of ethical conduct during the VECTOR project, with respect to both the conduct of the project and its outputs. We recognise that due to the subject matter of the VECTOR project, there are sensitivities surrounding some of the research and development to be undertaken, and in line with our ambition to take a human centred approach to this project, we are keen to make every effort to allay concerns around the handling of these sensitivities and ensure they are managed in accordance with the highest ethical principles.
In order to put this commitment into practice, the VECTOR consortium has appointed an Ethics Advisor, who will be responsible for advising the project on ethical matters and Chairing an Independent Ethics Committee, which will bring subject matter expertise to ethical deliberations.
The Independent Ethics Committee (with the Ethics Advisor as Chair) sits within the Project’s broader governance framework and operates independently, but alongside, the Project’s Advisory and Executive boards. The Project’s governance structure has been designed to ensure that ethical matters arising during the course of the Project are considered by expert, independent third parties and that their advice feeds into Project decision making processes and is implemented by the Project working parties.
This approach to project ethics is a first for a Horizon Europe project, and one we hope will set the bar for strong ethical management across the Horizon universe.
To help make this a reality, the Consortium will make information relating to the ethical management of the Project available to interested third parties.
 EU Commission, 2021, Delivering the European Green Deal: the decisive decade
 World Bank Group, 2020, Minerals for climate action: The mineral intensity of the clean energy transition
INDEPENDENT ETHICS COMMITTEE
Quinton Newcomb is the Ethics Advisor for the Vector Project and Chair of the Independent Ethics Committee. Quinton is Partner and Head of Commercial Crime at the law firm Fieldfisher LLP. He has practised as a court advocate and has been involved in the leadership of law firms. Quinton is a member of Fieldfisher’s Mining Group and has considerable knowledge of the sector through working with both mining companies and individuals. He has also used and led teams using software that employs machine learning for reviewing substantial volumes of data in the context of internal investigations and has considered some of the ethical implications of the use of such technology.
Emmanuel Roberto Goffi is a philosopher of technologies and an artificial intelligence ethicist. He is the co-founder and co-director of the Global AI Ethics institute in Paris, an instructor and research associate with the Frankfurt Big data Lab at the Goethe University Frankfurt, and a research fellow with the Centre for Defence and Security Studies at the University of Manitoba. Emmanuel graduated from the French Air Force Military Academnby and holds a PhD in political science from the Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris-Centre de Recherches Internationals.
Douglas Taylor is a business, communications and ethics expert. He holds a Master in Business Administration and Applied Ethics for professionals from the University of the Witwatersrand. Through his own communications company, Douglas has been interacting with the mining industry for several years. While being lecturer at the Wits Business School (ZA), a number of his students conducted research into various aspects of mining, including women in mining, community acceptance, corporate sustainability index in mining, acid mine drainage, and other environmental aspects.
WP6 MILESTONES / DELIVERABLES
WP6 is the Ethcis workpage and is the responsibility of the Project Coordinator (HZDR) to administrate.
WP6 deliverables are as follows:
- To appoint an Ethics Advisor by month 3 to oversee the activities involving stakeholders and local public in WP3 and WP4, to ensure adequate data protection.
- To submit an Initial Ethics Report (OEI Requirement 1) at month 3 [Dissemination Level: SEN]
- To submit an Interim Ethics Report (D1.5) at month 30 [Dissemination Level: SEN]
- To submit a Final Ethics Report (D1.6) at month 30 [Dissemination Level: SEN]
However, the VECTOR Project has committed to going above and beyond these specifics as set out in the Ethics Commitment, above.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE PROJECT AND RELATED ETHICAL MATTERS
- Is the VECTOR project pro-mining?
VECTOR is neither for nor against mining. One of the aims of the VECTOR project is to better understand societal responses to exploration for critical raw materials within the EU. VECTOR will integrate these views, and concerns for the environment, with scientific solutions, and develop products that could be used to enable sustainable, responsible exploration for critical raw materials within the EU.
There is no question that the mining industry has caused considerable environmental and societal damage and that some mining projects do not adhere to responsible practices. However, given that recycling alone cannot supply the materials required for the EU to meet its climate goals, the mining of critical raw materials will be required, combined with extensive efforts to reduce overall consumption, and additional research and development into circular economy technologies.
We believe that, within this context, modern mineral exploration and mining must be carried out to the highest standards that greatly minimise environmental and societal impacts. Some wealthy societies have chosen to outsource raw material production to minimise environmental and social disturbance. However, this raises questions of environmental justice and how the societal costs and benefits of mining are distributed across the globe.
The VECTOR Consortium partners are aware that many people view mineral exploration and mining as a societally damaging industry, and consider themselves anti-mining. VECTOR respects all opinions on the subject and does not seek to influence people’s opinions, but rather to inform debate on the topic, including in relation to the development of responsible exploration and mining practices.
- Does the VECTOR consortium include mining companies?
Yes, the VECTOR consortium includes mining companies. The VECTOR consortium comprises a large variety of stakeholders, including research organisations, social and environmental consultants, technology start-ups, not-for-profit organisations, and mining companies, in order to ensure a balanced dialogue and unbiased research. It is important to involve mining companies in the project, as not only do these companies have practical and technical working knowledge of exploration methods, local community engagement, and site working practices, but they are key to providing geological data, information, and access* to the study sites that will be the focus of the Project.
However, it is important to note that the mining companies involved in the project have the same status as the other consortium partners, and are not involved in the management or governance of the Project. As explained in our Ethics Committment the VECTOR project seeks to take a human-centred approach to fulfilling the Project’s aims, which involves all stakeholders, including the general public. We have processes in place to ensure that the Project meets its commitment to maintaining high ethical standards in its conduct and outcomes.
*no access rights are provided in relation to the site in Serbia
- Does the VECTOR project seek to influence public views on critical raw material exploration within Europe?
No, VECTOR does not seek to alter social acceptance or influence broader public views on mineral exploration within Europe. Rather, it aims to understand how current public attitudes are formed and provide data tools that can be utilised by all members of society, from governments to NGOs to companies, to understand these attitudes and integrate them within assessments and decision making concerning mineral exploration within Europe. The aim is to inform rather than influence; to encourage critical thinking; and to stimulate public debate about the need for critical raw materials and their role in Europe’s success in meeting the decarbonisation targets set out in the Green Deal.
The VECTOR consortium has appointed an Ethics Advisor and Independent Ethics Committee to oversee the conduct and outcomes of the Project, and ensure that the Project progresses in line with its purpose.
- Will the VECTOR project use AI and machine learning?
VECTOR will not use or develop AI technologies. VECTOR will make use of data science for research purposes. Machine Learning will be used within VECTOR to find common patterns in the data that we collect in our core research, be this geological data or survey data about social acceptance of extracting critical raw materials. This allows us to better see links between these data sets and integrate the two different sides of our research. Machine Learning will never be used to analyse individual human thoughts, behaviours, or patterns.
Information will remain anonymous and will be prepared in such a way that it cannot be misused, whether by the consortium or anyone else accessing the data. The data produced by VECTOR will be open-source and open-access to ensure a total transparency.
To ensure the proper use of data science, the project is continuously supervised by an Advisory Board, whose members represent a diverse range of experience (e.g. NGOs, civil society, academia, industry). The VECTOR consortium has also appointed an Ethics Advisor and Independent Ethics Committee to oversee the conduct and outcomes of the Project, and ensure that the Project progresses in line with its purpose.
- How will the VECTOR project ensure that the research conducted during the project, including that involving engagement with external stakeholders, is conducted to the highest ethical standards?
The VECTOR consortium has appointed an Ethics Advisor and Independent Ethics Committee to oversee the conduct and outcomes of the Project, and ensure that the Project progresses in line with its purpose, and with the highest ethical standards.