1 Introduction |
1. Metals are essential for the quality of life
that modern society is accustomed to. They are key raw materials
for advanced manufacturing, low-carbon technologies and many other
industries. In November 2010, the Government published its plans
for economic growth in the paper, The path to strong, sustainable
and balanced growth.
This paper indentified five specific challenges in "getting
behind" British business and improving the UK's performance,
two of these challenges were:
consolidating existing strengths in [...] advanced
manufacturing to drive export growth;
supporting new and expanding industries where the
UK has the potential to become a world leader including in low-carbon
Ensuring a stable supply of metals and other raw
materials will be key to addressing these challenges.
2. Metals are present in varying but finite quantities
in the Earth's crust and are distributed unevenly. There is concern
that some metals may run out in the coming decades.
Supply risks to metals have also been a focus of recent media
factors affect the supply of metals. For example, in September
2010, Chinawhich supplies over 97% of a group of metals
known as the rare earth elements (REEs, see paragraph 14), which
are essential for many high-tech productsreportedly stopped
exports of REEs to Japan in response to the arrest of a Chinese
trawler captain in disputed waters of the South China Sea.
Metal supply shortages, for example due to geopolitical or economic
issues, could have a significant impact on the industries using
them and hence the economies of countries reliant on those industries.
The increasing economic power and global influence of transition
economies such as Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC) has heightened
concerns over competition for scarce resources.
3. The Government's plans for growth and, more
broadly, concerns about the security of supply of strategic metals
prompted this inquiry; in particular we were interested in the
potential impact on those who required strategic metals in the
4. On 11 November 2010 we made a call for written
evidence on the following questions:
- Is there a global shortfall
in the supply and availability of strategically important metals
essential to the production of advanced technology in the UK?
- How vulnerable is the UK to a potential decline
or restriction in the supply of strategically important metals?
What should the Government be doing to safeguard against this
and to ensure supplies are produced ethically?
- How desirable, easy and cost-effective is it
to recover and recycle metals from discarded products? How can
this be encouraged? Where recycling currently takes place, what
arrangements need to be in place to ensure it is done cost-effectively,
safely and ethically?
- Are there substitutes for those metals that are
in decline in technological products manufactured in the UK? How
can these substitutes be more widely applied?
- What opportunities are there to work internationally
on the challenge of recovering, recycling and substituting strategically
5. We received 22 written submissions and held
three oral evidence sessions between January and March 2011:
- On 26 January, we took evidence
from two panels of witnesses. First: Professor David Manning,
Secretary, Professional Matters, Geological Society; Dr Bernie
Rickinson, Chief Executive, Institute of Materials, Minerals and
Mining; and Dr Mike Pitts, Industry Technology Division, Royal
Society of Chemistry. Second: Ian Hetherington, Director General,
British Metals Recycling Association; Sophie Thomas, Trustee,
the Design Council and Founding Director, Thomas Matthews Ltd;
Tony Hartwell, Knowledge Transfer Manager, The Environmental Sustainability
Knowledge Transfer Network; and Louis Brimacombe, Head of the
Environment & Sustainability Research Team, Tata Steel.
- On 16 February, we took evidence from: Charles
Emmerson, Senior Fellow, Chatham House; Dr Jonathan Di John, Lecturer
in Political Economy, School of Oriental and African Studies;
Anthony Lipmann, Managing Director, Lipmann Walton & Co Ltd
and former Chairman, Minor Metals Trade Association; and Charles
Swindon, Chair of the Trade and Lobby Committee, Minor Metals
- On 2 March, we took evidence from two panels
of witnesses. First: Professor Robert Watson, Chief Scientific
Adviser, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra);
and Professor David Clary, Chief Scientific Adviser, Foreign &
Commonwealth Office (FCO). Finally, Rt Hon David Willetts MP,
Minister of State for Universities and Science.
6. We would like to put on record our thanks
to those who provided written or oral evidence to this inquiry.
Structure of the report
7. In chapter 2 we provide background information
on the definition of strategic metals, the issues around metal
scarcity and the Government's policies on metal use and consumption
in the UK. Chapter 3 covers issues affecting the trade in strategic
metals. Chapter 4 looks at the social and environmental impacts
of mining overseas. Chapter 5 investigates the potential for recycling
and reuse of strategic metals in the UK. Finally, chapter 6 looks
at exploration for and extraction of strategic metals in the UK.
1 HM Treasury & Department for Business, Innovation
and Skills, Path to Strong, Sustainable and Balanced Growth,
November 2010 Back
HM Treasury & Department for Business, Innovation and Skills,
Path to Strong, Sustainable and Balanced Growth, November
2010, para 1.75 Back
"Earth's Natural Wealth: An Audit", New Scientist,
23 May 2007; "Endangered Elements: Critical Thinking",
Chemistry World, January 2010 Back
AEA Technology, Defra, Review of the Future Resource Risks
Faced by UK Business and an Assessment of Future Viability,
January 2011, pp 28-29 Back
"Japan protests over Chinese boats near disputed islands",
BBC online, 25 October 2010 Back
See for example: Oakdene Hollins, Resource Efficiency KTN, Material
Security: Ensuring Resource Availability for the UK Economy,
March 2008, p 8. Back