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Given the damaging drive for critical raw materials, how green can the energy ‘transition’ be?

12 juillet 2023

Given the damaging drive for critical raw materials, how green can the energy ‘transition’ be?

Globally, discussions are intensifying regarding the transition to climate-neutral energy and how to secure and diversify access to the raw materials needed to achieve it. Sadly, so far, the common thread is that the climate solutions stand to exacerbate the threats confronting forests and the people who depend on them. Policies must urgently address the need to reduce consumption, especially in industrialised countries, so that the energy transition becomes socially just while preserving our planet.

Energy transition is a hot topic, as evidenced by discussions surrounding implementation of the Just Energy Transition Partnerships (JETP) concluded between the G7 and emerging economies, the EU-US negotiations for a Critical Raw Materials Trade Agreement, and the Asia Energy conference in Kuala Lumpur in June 2023.

Closer to home, on June 30, the Council of the EU adopted a negotiating position for the Critical Raw Materials Act: this adds bauxite and aluminium (refined from bauxite) to strategic raw and critical materials. Notably, huge swathes of forest are cleared, and soil removed in Australia, Indonesia, Brazil and Guinea to satisfy, among others, the German automotive industry’s demand for aluminium (accounting for 47 per cent of the aluminium used in 2019. Construction (14 per cent) and packaging (12 per cent) are also large consumers.

The harmful impacts of considering aluminium a critical material could be significant, for example, in Ghana, civil society is already fighting Government plans to mine bauxite in the Atewa Range Forest Reserve. Many rivers take their source from the Reserve, and a large number of communities rely on it for their water. While the Council raises the level of ambition for processing and recycling, it proposes no targets for sufficiency, and no robust safeguards to protect forests or the rights of the people whose survival depend on them.

Unabated European demand for “transition minerals” creates additional environmental and social challenges for developing and emerging countries to achieve their own transition. Energy security and affordability dominated the Asia energy conference, intended to discuss how Asia can drive the green energy transition. Instead, Malaysia and coal-dependent Indonesia emphasised that gas will remain their most significant energy feedstock and will act as a “stabilising factor” for at least the next 20-25 years, prior to transitioning to renewable energies.

This, despite the fact that a JETP concluded at the G20 Summit in 2022 supports Indonesia’s transition to renewable energies with an initial US$20 billion to help Indonesia phase out fossil fuels and generate more than a third of its energy from renewable sources, including biomass, by 2030. Indonesian NGOs have alerted G7 countries to the uncertainty of JETP implementation because of the influence of oligarchs in the energy sector, and are calling on the G7 to respond. Indonesian thinktank Trend Asia also warns that plans to ramp up biomass production could result in felling more than one million hectares of tropical forest in coming years.

The Indonesian Government’s other strategic priority is to develop its nickel industry to supply electric vehicles batteries. Indonesian NGOs flag nickel as the next deforestation frontier, also driving human rights abuses and coal burning.

The draft CRMA text proposes criteria for EU’s strategic partnerships with third countries to diversify its supply of raw materials; these, unfortunately, do not address any of these challenges.

Given the current climate crisis and likely human rights impacts, it is irresponsible to discuss sourcing critical raw materials in a context of unbridled consumption (FW 284). The European Parliament votes on amendments in July, and in plenary in October; it is hoped they will insist on human rights guardrails and strict sufficiency targets, as they are our last real chance to insist on a measure of equity before interinstitutional (Trilogue) negotiations.

 

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Catégories: Forest Watch, Critical minerals

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