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Chile: UN highlights human rights impact of the rise in electric car battery production in this country and in DRC

“UN highlights urgent need to tackle impact of likely electric car battery production boom” – 28 June 2020

…The shift to electric mobility is in line with ongoing efforts to reduce the world’s dependence on fossil fuels, and reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change, but a new report from UNCTAD, warns that the raw materials used in electric car batteries, are highly concentrated in a small number of countries, which raises a number of concerns. For example, two-thirds of all cobalt production happens in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). According the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), about 20 per cent of cobalt supplied from the DRC comes from artisanal mines, where human rights abuses have been reported, and up to 40,000 children work in extremely dangerous conditions in the mines for meagre income. And in Chile, lithium mining uses nearly 65% of the water in the country's Salar de Atacama region, one of the driest desert areas in the world, to pump out brines from drilled wells. This has forced local quinoa farmers and llama herders to migrate and a bandon ancestral settlements. It has also contributed to environment degradation, landscape damage and soil contamination, groundwater depletion and pollution. Noting that "the rise in demand for the strategic raw materials used to manufacture electric car batteries will open more trade opportunities for the countries that supply these materials”, UNCTAD's director of international trade, Pamela Coke-Hamilton, emphasised the importance, for these countries, to “develop their capacity to move up the value chain"…As for the environmental consequences of the batteries themselves, the report recommends the development of improved, more sustainable mining techniques, and the recycling of the raw materials used in spent Lithium-Ion batteries, a measure that would help deal with the expected increase in demand, and also create new business opportunities…