Green energy often leads to biodiversity loss and human rights violations

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In order to rapidly reduce CO2 emissions, we will have to switch from fossil to renewable energy in the short term. The energy transition was also an important topic during the recent UN climate summit in Glasgow. However, it is key to ensure that the transition to renewable energy takes place in a responsible manner, with respect for people and nature.

Header photo: Karsten Winegeart on Unsplash

The demand for metals and minerals necessary for the production and storage of green energy is growing explosively. The World Bank found that the production of minerals, such as graphite, lithium and cobalt, could increase by nearly 500% by 2050, to meet the growing demand for clean energy technologies. There will come a time when there is simply not enough left in the ground to meet this enormous demand. Consuming less and recycling more is therefore necessary.

Human rights violations and biodiversity loss 

The extraction of these minerals is often accompanied by human rights violations and major losses of biodiversity, especially through deforestation, pollution and forced displacement. This side of green energy should not be overlooked. To sustainably source the raw materials needed for the energy transition, three things are indispensable: transparency, strong local laws and regulations, and voluntary and mandatory sustainability standards for companies.

Transparency in the value chain

Transparency throughout the value chain as a whole is crucial to ensure responsible management of raw materials, from the decision-making process related to issuing the permits to extracting and processing the materials. Every company that processes products obtained through mining, must be aware of the origin of and circumstances under which the minerals were extracted. Sector specific International Responsible Business Conduct (IRBC) Agreements can play a role in maximizing value chain transparency.

Strong laws and regulations

International standards and (national) laws and regulations in relation to mining can and must be better adhered to. Important nature and water catchment areas, fragile ecosystems and areas managed by indigenous peoples should be excluded from mining. Land – and participation rights of indigenous people and local communities must be respected.

Sustainability standards

Besides existing laws and regulations, there are voluntary performance standards to which mining companies can commit. These sector-wide standards often impose stricter sustainability requirements than national laws and regulations. We encourage companies to publicly commit to these kinds of standards and guidelines, such as those of the progressive IRMA standard (Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance). Many multinationals are responsive in this regard, partly because an increasing number of investors are imposing requirements in this field. Let’s work on the energy transition as quickly as possible, but one without loss of biodiversity and human rights violations.

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Maartje Hilterman

Project Leader – Forests for a Just Future

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Mark van der Wal

Senior Expert Ecosystems & Extractives