Will the transition to green energy foster peace or exacerbate conflict?
A new report analyses how the transition to a low-carbon economy – and the minerals and metals required to make that shift – could affect fragility, conflict, and violence dynamics in mineral-rich states.
Could the pursuit of one Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) jeopardize the success of another?
SDGs 7 and 13 call for affordable and clean energy and concerted global action on climate change – respectively. Transitioning from fossil fuels to green energy technologies – like wind turbines, solar panels, and electric vehicles – will be integral in meeting both of these goals, as well as the global commitments outlined in the Paris Agreement. But the mismanagement of mineral supply chains required for the development and deployment of these green energy technologies could threaten the realization of SDG 16 for peace, justice, and strong institutions.
In a new report, Green Conflict Minerals: The fuels of conflict in the transition to a low-carbon economy, the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) analyses how the transition to a low-carbon economy – and the minerals and metals required to make that shift – could affect fragility, conflict, and violence dynamics in mineral-rich states. The report finds that the increased extraction of many of the minerals required for the green energy transition – including cobalt, lithium, and rare earths – has been and still is linked to local grievances, tensions, and (in the worst cases) violence.
The report’s mapping analysis, for example, overlays fragility and corruption indicators with global mineral reserves, demonstrating that almost all of the minerals identified as critical to solar, wind, and energy storage technologies are found in high concentrations in states perceived to be either corrupt or very corrupt, according to Transparency International. Additionally, more than 70 per cent of cobalt, graphite, molybdenum, and selenium reserves – all integral to these technologies – are found in states labelled as fragile, as per reports from the Fund for Peace.
The report identifies 23 key minerals that will be critical to the development and deployment of green energy technologies and interrogates whether increased demand for these minerals could support peaceful, sustainable development in countries where strategic reserves are found, or whether their extraction is likely to reinforce weak governance and exacerbate local tensions. Bauxite and alumina mining operations in Guinea, for example, have been the source of recent riots in Boké. In the border region between Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile, known as the Lithium Triangle, water and land rights disputes have been aggravated by the increasing demand for lithium, a mineral critical to electric vehicle batteries. And in the Democratic Republic of Congo, cobalt extraction – a key mineral to energy storage technologies – has been linked to incidents of child labour and human rights abuses.
While the transition to green energy technologies is necessary to fulfill the targets of the SDGs, so too is the responsible sourcing of the minerals needed for this transition. Foreign policy and other government agencies, civil society groups, and the private sector must work together towards the responsible management of green energy supply chains, building off of the success of existing responsible sourcing practices, in order to ensure that the success of one SDG does not spell out failure of another.
Clare Church is a Research Officer for the International Institute for Sustainable Development and the co-author of the report “Green Conflict Minerals: The fuels of conflict in the transition to a low-carbon economy.”