Wind energy is key in our transition to a low-carbon economy to meet our climate goals. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, wind and solar energy together are expected to make up close to 50% of our global energy mix by 2050.
Wind turbines rely on a number of critical minerals, including cobalt, copper, manganese and nickel, among others. The World Bank estimates a 250% rise in demand for key minerals used in wind turbines under a 2 degree climate scenario, including aluminium, chromium, copper, iron, lead, manganese, molybdenum, neodymium, nickel and zinc.
As many of these minerals currently have limited recycling possibilities, new mining projects will be needed to meet the demand of wind power developers worldwide.
Minerals required for wind energy technology
Our research focused on companies mining cobalt, copper, manganese and nickel. Demand for these minerals is expected to rise in part due to their use in wind energy technologies.
This case study looks at the human rights record of copper mining. Please read our other case studies to learn more about human rights in cobalt mining and nickel mining.
A single 3 MW wind turbine contains approximately 4.7 tons of copper. Increased deployment of wind technologies will contribute to the growing demand for copper in the next few decades. The World Bank estimates that the world will need about 550 million tons of copper over the next 25 years to meet global demand - nearly the same quantity produced over the past 5000 years.
The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre recorded 74 allegations of human rights abuse against the top copper mining companies worldwide and in the Southern African Development Community - the most of any mineral included in our Tracker.
In 2018, Zambia was the 7th biggest producer of copper in the world and the second in Africa, behind the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre tracked the top 4 companies mining copper in Zambia through its Transition Minerals Tracker: Barrick Gold, First Quantum Minerals, Glencore and Vedanta Resources. Besides these companies, there are over 30 companies with large-scale copper mining licenses in the country.
"The water and land are acidic. It doesn't grow. So as a result, we have poverty."
"Sometimes, I feel it is better I am dead than alive."Shimulala village testimonies collected by Swedwatch, Copper with a Cost, 2019
Unfortunately, the mining sector has not benefited all equally. Communities living near mining projects often fail to reap the benefits of copper production. In relation to copper mining in Zambia alone, the Resource Centre's Transition Minerals Tracker recorded 22 allegations of human rights abuse between 2010 and 2019. Environmental impacts of mining and access to water, as well as impacts on health, land rights and tax avoidance, were the issues most frequently linked to these allegations.
With weak enforcement of regulations by public authorities and lack of oversight on the mining sector, mining companies are often accused of failing to deliver on environmental and social commitments.
Communities concerns about copper operations are best illustrated through Zambian villagers’ lawsuit against Vedanta Resources in UK Courts. Villagers are suing for alleged water pollution by Vedanta's subsidiary Konkola Copper mines, which has left them with barren lands and destroyed their livelihoods.
Similar allegations of environmental pollution and allegations of tax avoidance by Glencore’s subsidiary Mopani Copper Mines drew considerable civil society attention in a 2012 documentary that looked at the European Investment Bank’s financial assistance to the project. Following civil society activism and an internal investigation by the EIB, Glencore agreed to a voluntary prepay of the EIB loan.
The copper used to produce wind turbines may have originated from Zambian mines with allegations of human rights abuse. Mining companies, investors and end consumers of copper have a responsibility to ensure human rights are not abused in the production of this essential mineral.
Further resources on human rights in wind turbine supply chains and copper mining
- ActionAid & SOMO, Human Rights in Wind Turbine Supply Chains, 2018
- ActionAid, Impacts of Mining Extractive Industries on Women in Zambia, 2015
- Southern Africa Resource Watch, Living in a Parallel Universe, First Quantum Mine versus Communities in Zambia, 2019
- Swedwatch, Copper with a cost, 2019
For more on the human rights impacts of copper and other minerals see our Transition Minerals Tracker.