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Responsible extraction of energy transition minerals for sustainable renewable energy expansion

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To shift away from fossil fuels and embrace renewable energy sources like wind turbines and solar plants, the world must increase the extraction of rare minerals. However, energy experts highlight the environmental degradation and human rights abuses associated with mining these minerals. The urgency of the climate crisis, marked by rising temperatures and extreme weather events, necessitates a rapid transition to cleaner energy sources.

While the energy sector is gradually moving away from polluting power stations towards solar and wind energy, the process of mining “energy transition minerals” remains problematic. Key minerals such as lithium, nickel, cobalt, rare earth elements, copper, and aluminum, crucial for renewable technology, are found globally, but their extraction is largely controlled by a few countries and companies.

The demand for these minerals is skyrocketing due to the transition to clean energy. Between 2017 and 2022, lithium demand tripled, nickel demand rose by 40%, and cobalt demand increased by 70%, according to the International Energy Agency. To achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions and fully adopt renewable energy, the use of these minerals needs to multiply six-fold by 2040, reaching a market value exceeding US$400 billion.

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While the economies of mineral-rich countries could benefit from sustainable extraction practices, concerns linger. UN Secretary-General António Guterres warns against repeating past mistakes, emphasizing the need for fair and sustainable management. Human rights abuses, forced labor, and environmental devastation, including deforestation and water pollution, are prevalent in the industry.

Efforts are underway at the UN to ensure the responsible extraction of energy transition minerals. Launched in 2023, this initiative aims to instill trust, reliability, and sustainability into the mineral supply chains. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the UN Environment Programme collaborates with authorities to develop a national plan for cobalt extraction, focusing on minimizing environmental impact and addressing conflicts around mineral extraction.

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