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28 Jun 2021

Kevin Watkins, The Guardian

Editorial: Mining holds the key to a green future – no wonder human rights activists are worried

"Mining holds the key to a green future – no wonder human rights activists are worried", 27 June 2021

Expanding renewable energy is a mineral intensive enterprise. Nature might provide the solar radiation and wind providing renewable energy, but the arteries through which the electricity flows are made of copper – and lots of it. Wind turbine gearboxes need manganese, platinum and rare earth magnets. EV batteries are made with lithium, cobalt and nickel. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), a mid-century zero-carbon world will take a sixfold increase in the production of these and other transition minerals by 2030. Prices are already surging.

The supply chains through which transition minerals flow are highly concentrated. Small groups of countries – the Democratic Republic of the Congo (cobalt), Indonesia and the Philippines (nickel), Australia and Chile (lithium) – dominate production. But Chinese mining companies are rapidly increasing investments...

That market structure explains why the prospect of a global mining boom is causing concern among human rights activists. “Make a list of the companies and countries producing transition minerals,” says Phil Bloomer, the director of the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC), “and you have a window on egregious and systematic violations of human rights”. The centre recently published a survey claiming more than 300 serious allegations against 115 transition mineral mining companies, ranging from the violation of indigenous land rights, to water pollution, health threats, corruption and a systemic failure to consult local communities...

None of this is a substitute for effective national governance. But mandatory human rights reporting, allied to strengthened disclosure on shell companies and ownership of offshore enterprises, would help raise reporting standards and strengthen the hands of local communities and others defending human rights. The alternative is a wave of activist protest, legal challenge and investor hesitancy that will slow the development of the mineral resources needed to secure our climate future.

That is an outcome none of us can afford. With the right governance we can ensure that the green revolution in energy does not become a new resource curse for the poor – without it, we all lose.