Achieving global climate goals will require a quantum leap in investments to secure sufficient supplies of key minerals needed for clean-energy technologies. But while these inputs can greatly accelerate emission-reduction efforts, protecting human rights when extracting them is an essential condition for climate justice.
DUBLIN – Can we avert climate catastrophe without unleashing a tsunami of human-rights abuses? Policymakers, investors, CEOs, and the boards of mining firms should be seeking – and delivering – positive answers to that question. Instead, the failure to engage with human-rights concerns could derail our already faltering journey to a low-carbon world.
At the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow last November, governments and much of the investment community reaffirmed their commitment to the 2015 Paris climate agreement. Breaching that accord’s global-warming threshold of 1.5° Celsius above pre-industrial levels will expose current and future generations to the deadly effects of climate breakdown. To avoid a collision with Earth’s ecological boundaries, we need a warp-speed acceleration in the transition to a zero-carbon pathway, starting with halving carbon dioxide emissions this decade.
Achieving that target will require a quantum leap in investments to secure sufficient supplies of so-called transition minerals. Clean-energy technologies such as solar plants, wind farms, and electric vehicles are mineral-intensive. Motors and turbines need nickel, chromium, manganese, and rare earths. New electricity networks require vast quantities of copper wire. Electric-vehicle batteries need lithium and nickel. The International Energy Agency estimates that reaching net-zero emissions by mid-century will require a six-fold increase in mineral inputs, and a 40-fold increase in lithium supply.