You are here

International Energy Agency (IEA)

What’s Missing from the New IEA Report on Mining and the Renewable Energy Transition?

By Raquel Dominguez - Earthworks, June 14, 2021

The International Energy Agency sends a mixed message in its recent reports, urging that we leave fossil fuels in the ground while simultaneously calling for more extraction of metals used in low-carbon technologies. This extractivist push is both problematic and unnecessary: the world can achieve a clean energy transition without the kind of human rights catastrophes and environmental devastation that the mining industry currently considers acceptable. 

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has released two important reports in the past month. The first, Net Zero by 2050, notes that “there is no need for new investment in fossil fuel supply,” a conclusion that many in the climate movement, including Earthworks, have applauded. The second, The Role of Critical Minerals in Clean Energy Transitions, undermines the “keep it in the ground” message of the first report by calling for more extraction in the form of metals mining. 

With the ever-increasing damage and injustices exacerbated by the climate crisis, the renewable energy transition is more urgent than ever. Demand for the “transition” minerals used in renewable energy technologies is in turn projected to increase sharply: according to the IEA, to meet the Paris Agreement goals, demand will rise (over the next 20 years) by more than 40% for copper and rare earth elements (REEs), 60-70% for nickel and cobalt, and more than 89% for lithium. Lithium-ion batteries need lithium, nickel, and cobalt (among other elements), wind turbines use REEs, and copper is used in all electricity-based technologies, due to its high rate of conductivity. 

These aren’t new projections: our own 2019 publication on this issue based on research by the University of Technology, Sydney, pointed to similar trendlines. This steep upward trajectory in minerals demand could be devastating for communities and ecosystems in the regions where these minerals are extracted. Hardrock mining has a long, terrible history as a tool of colonization and imperialism; in the United States alone, mining has accompanied and driven western settlement, which killed untold numbers of Indigenous peoples, breaking multiple treaties with Indigenous peoples, contaminating more than 40% of western watersheds’ headwaters, and directly causing the deaths of many members of mining-affected communities from cancer. Mining is the country’s leading industrial toxic polluter, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, and responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions, according to the UN Environment Programme.

But the social and environmental harm brought on by mining is not a thing of the past: in the Olaroz salt flat in Argentina, Indigenous peoples “that own the land struggle to pay for sewage systems, drinking water and heat for schools” even as Minera Exar anticipates making $250 million per year by mining lithium; in Australia, Rio Tinto blew up the Juukan Gorge, which is sacred to the Puutu Kunti Kuurama and Pinikura peoples and which had evidence of continuous habitation for more than 46,000 years, in pursuit of iron ore. There are hundreds of stories just like these, some of them which are detailed in our recent report, Recharge Responsibly, happening all over the world—and this environmental injustice will continue apace if recycling and reuse, alongside other demand reduction strategies and more responsible primary sourcing, are not prioritized as part of a clean energy transition.

It doesn’t have to be this way...

Read the rest here.

'Fossil Fuel Exit Strategy' Shows Transition to Renewable Future Totally Doable

By Andrea Germanos - Common Dreams, June 10, 2021

Ditching fossil fuels in favor of renewable energy in order to keep warming below the 1.5ºC threshold is both "necessary and technically feasible."

That's the conclusion of an analysis released Thursday entitled Fossil Fuel Exit Strategy. Produced by the University of Technology Sydney's Institute for Sustainable Futures in cooperation with the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative, the report states clearly that "there is no need for more fossil fuels" because the world is overflowing with renewable energy capacity.

Such a pathway, said Sanjay Vashist, director of Climate Action Network South Asia, would avert a "criminal waste of money" that would "have devastating climate and humanitarian consequences."

A key point in the analysis is that simply stopping the industry's planned expansion of fossil fuel projects is insufficient to meet the Paris climate agreement's temperature goal and would actually "push warming well above 1.5ºC."

With this angle, the new analysis goes beyond the International Energy Agency's report last month calling for no oil and gas expansion in order to meet a goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. That's because even if there were no expansion, the report's projections show, the world would produce 35% more oil and 69% more coal than is consistent with meeting the 1.5°C target.

As such, Fossil Fuel Exit Strategy lays out a dirty energy phaseout with an annual decline of 9.5% for coal, 8.5% for oil, 3.5% for gas from 2021-2030.

Can Carbon Capture Save Our Climate— and Our Jobs?

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, June 2021

As storms, heat waves, fires, floods, and other devastating effects of global warming have grown, more and more people have become convinced of the need to reduce greenhouse gases (GHG) emitted into the atmosphere. The Paris Agreement defined the goal of limiting global average temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. At the April Climate Summit President Joe Biden announced the U.S. will target reducing emissions by 50-52 percent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels and reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050. These goals indicate what the consensus of climate scientists says is necessary to ward off the most destructive possible effects of climate change. The question remains how to realize them.

There are two well established and proven means to reduce GHG emissions. The first is to replace the burning of fossil fuels with renewable energy from solar, wind, hydropower, and geothermal sources. The other is to reduce the amount of energy we need through a myriad proven means ranging from switching from gasoline to electric vehicles to insulating houses. Numerous studies and thousands of implementations lay out the scientific and economic effectiveness of protecting the climate by reducing fossil fuel emissions.

There is a third means that is being promoted: continue burning fossil fuels but capture carbon–the principal greenhouse gas–either in the smokestack or by sucking it out of the air after it has been released. Various techniques for doing this have been developed with various names–carbon capture and storage (CCS), carbon capture and utilization (CCU), bioenergy with CCS (BECCS), and direct air capture with CCS (DACCS). We will refer to them together as “carbon capture.”

There is a debate in the climate and labor movements about the use of carbon capture as a climate solution. Some maintain that carbon capture is necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They argue as well that it can be a way to save the jobs of coal miners and fossil-fuel power plant workers and provide power needed for industry while still protecting the climate and that it will create large numbers of jobs. Others say that carbon capture is unproven, costly, problematic for health and the environment, more productive of jobs, and ineffective for climate protection. They argue that renewable energy and energy efficiency are superior both for climate and for workers and communities. They maintain that a transition to fossil-free energy is already underway and that organized labor and the climate movement should take the lead in ensuring that transition benefits rather than harms workers.

Read the text (PDF).

Mineral constraints for transition overstated by IEA

By Kingsmill Bond - Carbon Trackers, May 10, 2021

The IEA’s latest piece on minerals critical to the energy transition gives a rather pessimistic spin to what was some very positive data. Looked at from a wider perspective, the note provides another useful source of analytical support for the energy transition.

The IEA looked into the amount of minerals needed to fuel the energy transition, and pretty quickly worked out ‘there is no shortage of resources’. The world has plenty of lithium, nickel, rare earth metals and so on. This is what the United States Geological Survey (USGS) has been saying for a while, and fits with the work done by the Energy Transitions Commission on mineral availability.

The IEA notes for example that we have 170 times as much lithium reserves as annual demand and that our lithium reserves have increased by 42% over the last eight years as higher prices and the prospect of rising demand have drawn out new investment. Under the IEA’s 1.5 degrees scenario, we will need about twice the amount of critical minerals by 2040 (six times as much for the clean energy industry, but that is only part of global demand), and the IEA put forward a series of sensible suggestions (increase recycling, invest in new supply and so on) to ensure that we get it.

However, their take then turns gloomier as we are warned about how hard this is going to be. Impressive charts show that the average electric vehicle uses 210kg of critical minerals compared to only 35kg for an ICE car and that a MW of solar generation capacity needs 6.5 tonnes of critical minerals compared to a coal plant which needs only 3 tonnes. We are then encouraged to think about all the ESG issues and environmental issues associated with the surge in mineral usage and to worry about supplier concentration, water usage, pollution and depletion.

Stand back a moment however, and you can see immediately that the IEA are very selective in their presentation of the data. They look only at the stocks (the assets you need to build the generator or car) not the flows (the energy you need to run them). But the flows of energy are 2-3 orders of magnitude larger than the stocks, and this means that many of their conclusions are more useful for fossil fuel advocates than for policymakers.

The Fine Print I:

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this site are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) unless otherwise indicated and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s, nor should it be assumed that any of these authors automatically support the IWW or endorse any of its positions.

Further: the inclusion of a link on our site (other than the link to the main IWW site) does not imply endorsement by or an alliance with the IWW. These sites have been chosen by our members due to their perceived relevance to the IWW EUC and are included here for informational purposes only. If you have any suggestions or comments on any of the links included (or not included) above, please contact us.

The Fine Print II:

Fair Use Notice: The material on this site is provided for educational and informational purposes. It may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. It is being made available in an effort to advance the understanding of scientific, environmental, economic, social justice and human rights issues etc.

It is believed that this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have an interest in using the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. The information on this site does not constitute legal or technical advice.