Nickel mining for energy transition could destroy unique Indonesian forest

The energy transition requires huge amounts of minerals and metals, which are used, for example, in batteries and solar cells. Due to the increasing demand for nickel for rechargeable batteries, Indonesia’s Tompotika peninsula on the island of Sulawesi is threatened by mining. This would be at the expense of tropical forests and coastal ecosystems, such as coral reefs, which in turn are crucial for addressing the climate, water and biodiversity crisis. The Alliance for Tompotika Conservation (AlTo) and IUCN NL also fear for the survival of the maleo bird and many other species, which are endemic to Sulawesi.

Header photo: Nickel mining on Sulawesi © Fachrudin Jabrig Indonesia Nature Film Society

As the world’s largest nickel producer and the country with the largest nickel reserves, Indonesia is aware of the economic opportunities presented by the energy transition and is trying to attract more and more investors. Between 2014 and 2022, nickel production in the country increased fourteenfold. Indonesia’s largest nickel reserves are in Sulawesi. The Tompotika peninsula was recently selected by the government for at least eighteen new nickel mines.

Forests, nickel and critical choices

The video “Tompotika: Forests, Nickel, and Critical Choices” tells the story of Tompotika and what would be lost if nickel mining is carried out on the peninsula. Our colleagues from AlTo share how they are working with the peninsula’s residents to protect their wildlife and livelihoods.

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The video is a co-production of AlTo and IUCN NL. Together, we are fighting to protect the Tompotika forest.

Of great importance to over 100 communities

Tompotika rainforest (83,000 ha) on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi is of great importance to 107 communities, with a total of 75,000 people ,living in the area.The forest stores CO2, purifies water, prevents floods and provides timber, rattan and damar resin. The coral reefs off the coast also depend on healthy forests on land. Deforestation for mining, and the mining activities themselves, would lead to large-scale pollution of coastal waters, the death of coral reefs and the death of fish, which would bring an end to fishing in the area.

Unique biodiversity

The Tompotika forest is home to an enormous wealth of biodiversity. Nine endemic species live here, including a special bird: the maleo bird. For the islanders, this bird is a symbol of cultural pride. The bird’s population has declined by more than 90% due to habitat loss and poaching. As a result, the maleo has the status of Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The Tompotika forest is its main habitat and this is threatened by nickel ore mining. Local people’s successful efforts to protect this special bird are now at risk.

A just energy transition

The energy transition is fuelling a growing global demand for minerals and metals and therefore a mining boom of unprecedented proportions. The World Bank expects the energy transition to increase demand for metals and minerals very rapidly: for nickel, cobalt, lithium and manganese, for example, by more than 500% by 2050.

To minimize the effects of climate change and minimise warming, we need to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources and our energy consumption. IUCN NL is working towards a fair energy transition that minimises the negative impact on people and nature. We do this in our projects Forests for a Just Future and Bottom Line!.

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Want to learn more? Contact our experts:

Maartje Hilterman
Project Leader – Forests for a Just Future
Mark van der Wal
Senior Expert Ecosystems & Extractives