African Leaders Call For Equity On Clean Energy Mineral Mining

African leaders are calling for a fairer distribution of the profits made from the extraction and supply of minerals needed for the clean energy transition, such as cobalt and manganese.

At the UN environmental assembly in Nairobi this week, a group of African countries, including Senegal and Cameroon, put forward a resolution to promote the sharing of benefits from mineral extraction.

The raw materials used to make solar panels, wind turbines, and electric vehicles (EVs) are present in large quantities in African countries. For example, the continent has more than 50% of the world’s reserves of cobalt and manganese, two key minerals used in EV batteries. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) alone is where 70% of cobalt is mined.

Despite this, minerals are often only mined in their raw form in African countries, and shipped off to be refined and processed in other countries, mainly China, which accounts for 85% of global processing capacity. This is mainly because most African countries don’t have the infrastructure to process these materials themselves.

Since refined and processed minerals are more valuable than raw ones, this puts many African countries at the bottom of the supply chain, benefitting the least economically from their own resources.

African leaders at the UN are pushing for agreements that promote technology transfers, so that more minerals can be processed domestically, creating a more equitable mining and processing industry.

Dump truck in an open pit mine in Africa

Seble Samuel, head of Africa Campaigns and Advocacy at the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative told The Guardian:

“[African countries] need to make sure that industrialisation happens here and that we’re not just serving another continent’s industrialisation plan […]. We cannot afford to replicate the same injustices and extractivism that’s happened with the fossil fuel economy.”

For context, around 75% of Africa’s crude oil is exported and refined elsewhere, before being bought back as petrol.

Allowing African countries to benefit more financially from minerals vital for the global energy transition will also help those countries carry out their own energy transitions.

In a speech at the Future Minerals Forum, held in Riyadh in January 2024, Inger Andersen, UNEP’s executive director emphasised that mineral mining and processing was “a huge opportunity for developing countries with these metals and minerals to invest in sustainable development”.

She also called for “the industry to work towards coherent standards and frameworks for responsible mining, developed in a multistakeholder setting and with credible verification mechanisms”, which includes human rights and sustainability safeguards.

Mineral mining has been marred by controversy over human rights abuses, particularly when it comes to cobalt mining in the DRC.

Besides its negative impact on local communities, mining can also negatively affect the local environment, leading to deforestation, soil erosion, and water pollution among other things.

Developing a sustainable and equitable minerals industry is a key part of the energy transition, and will only become more urgent as the demand for green technology puts more pressure on the mining industry.

Written by:
Tatiana has written about multiple environmental topics, including heat pumps, energy-efficient household products, and solar panels. She is dedicated to demystifying green tech to make eco-friendly living more accessible.
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