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GreenReads: IEA World Energy Employment Report - Energy transition or energy descent?

By staff - European Trade Union Institute, September 15, 2022

On 8 September, the International Energy Agency published its first comprehensive report on jobs in the global energy sectors. The World Energy Employment Report provides data on energy jobs ‘by sector, region, and value chain segment’ and will be published annually.

The global energy sector (including energy end uses) employed over 65 million people in 2019, equivalent to around 2% of global employment.

The main messages of the report are:

  • Employment is growing in the global energy sector, especially in clean energy;
  • Around a third of workers are in energy fuel supply (coal, oil, gas and bioenergy), a third in the power sector (generation, transmission, distribution and storage), and a third in key energy end uses (vehicle manufacturing and energy efficiency);
  • More than half of energy jobs are in the Asia-Pacific region;
  • Women are strongly under-represented in the energy sector. Despite making up 39% of global employment, women account for only 16% in traditional energy sectors. They are even more under-represented in management functions.

The Road to Ruin? - Electric vehicles and workers’ rights abuses at DR Congo’s industrial cobalt mines

By staff - Rights and Accountability in Development (RAID) and the Centre d’Aide Juridico-Judiciaire (CAJJ), November 2021

Cobalt is everywhere. It is a silvery-blue mineral used in the rechargeable batteries that power our mobile phones, laptops and tablets, and in larger quantities, the electric vehicles that will soon dominate our roads. It is a strategic mineral in the plan to decarbonise and move away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy. Accelerating this switch is one of the priorities to tackle the climate crisis and industry experts forecast that electric vehicle sales will skyrocket in the next 10 years. This will require a dramatic increase in cobalt production.

The booming demand for cobalt has a dark side, however. The Democratic Republic of Congo, one of Africa’s poorest nations, holds the lion’s share of the world’s cobalt reserves. In 2020, 70% of the world’s cobalt was extracted from within its borders with tens of thousands of workers labouring in large-scale industrial mines to dig up the ore. Multinational mining companies that own many of Congo’s mines, eager to demonstrate their “green” and “responsible” credentials, say they produce “clean” and “sustainable” cobalt, free from human rights abuses, and that their operations contribute to good jobs and economic opportunities.

This report, based on extensive research over two years, paints a very different picture. It shows dire conditions for many Congolese workers in the industrial mines, often characterised by widespread exploitation and labour rights abuses. Many workers do not earn a “living wage” – the minimum remuneration to afford a decent standard of living – have little or no health provision, and far too often are subjected to excessive working hours, unsafe working conditions, degrading treatment, discrimination and racism.

In recent years attention has mainly focused on Congo’s artisanal mining sector, partly because of the risks of child labour it creates, whereas the conditions for workers in the large-scale industrial mines have gone largely unnoticed. This report examines workers’ rights at Congo’s industrial mines where the large majority of cobalt is coming from, producing some 80% of the cobalt exported from the country (in contrast to the 20% produced in artisanal mines).

The findings presented in this report are based on detailed research over 28 months by UK-based corporate watchdog Rights and Accountability in Development (RAID) and the Centre d’Aide Juridico- Judiciaire (CAJJ), a Congolese legal aid centre specialised in labour rights. The research team carried out extensive field research in and around Kolwezi, a mining town where many of Congo’s cobalt and copper mines are located. It is informed by 130 interviews of workers and former workers at five mining companies, as well as interviews with subcontractors, union representatives, lawyers, Congolese local authorities, medical staff and industry experts.

Read the text (PDF).

Electrification of vehicles in Canadian mines

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, September 8, 2021

Trade magazine Electric Autonomy has published a series titled BEV’s in Mining, and while clearly from an industry point of view, the articles provide a useful overview of the transformation being wrought by electrification of the mining industry in Canada. “Deep secrets: How Canada’s mining sector grabbed the global lead in mining electrification “ (Nov. 2020) introduces the topic of Battery Electric Vehicles and highlights the specific activities of mining majors GlencoreVale and Newmont, as well as Maclean Engineering, a Collingwood, Ontario-based equipment manufacturer. A related, brief article highlighted the use of Rokion-manufactured trucks at Vale Canada mining sites in Manitoba and Ontario. “Human capital: How BEVs in underground mining change the working environment for the better” was published in February 2021 – discussing the benefits for operators from less noise and vibration, cleaner air, and less fire risk underground. This healthier environment is linked to greater worker satisfaction and a competitive edge for employers to attract scarce talent. The article also states that “the ventilation system for an all-electric mine will operate at roughly 50 per cent of the cost of a diesel mine and cut greenhouse emissions per mine by 70 per cent, according to government data. The Canadian government estimates transitioning to electric could save 500 tonnes of CO2 emissions per vehicle, every year.”

Most recently, “There’s a skills shortage maintaining electric mining vehicles. One training program is trying to fix that” ( Aug. 25), which describes the new “ Industrial Battery Electric Vehicle Maintenance Course”, associated with Cambrian College’s research-oriented Centre for Smart Mining in Sudbury, and with Maclean Engineering. What the series does not discuss are the other labour market implications – including layoffs – from the automation of vehicles and other operations.

Global union launches campaign against world copper mining giants

By staff - MorningStar, September 2021

GLOBAL union confederation IndustriALL is taking on a copper mining company, calling for an end to its exploitation of workers.

It has its sights set on the Chilean franchise of the Anglo-Australian BHP multinational company, accusing it of using its corporate muscle to shape laws to work in its favour.

IndustriALL brought together Chilean BHP unions in an online workshop to explore issues of human rights abuses in global supply chains as well as health and safety.

Workers there have been forced to seek redress through the courts, however there are limited mechanisms offering protection to those working in the BHP-operated mines.

“Environmental, social and governance issues are today seen as the biggest risk to the mining industry.

“BHP can no longer evade these issues. It must show respect for workers, communities and the country as a whole,” IndustriALL spokesman Glenn Mpufane said.

Chile is the world’s largest copper producer, yet at least 61 per cent of BHP workers are contractors with precarious employment conditions.

IndustriALL argues that they should be treated more fairly by the multinational company, with copper becoming a crucial resource in the global economy, in high demand for the energy transition.

“As a result, BHP shareholders enjoy attractive returns, but what are the returns for workers, communities and the country as a whole?” Mr Mpufane said.

In August matters spilled over as government-mediated pay talks stalled and workers threatened to ballot for strike action.

The dispute worried world copper markets, despite the price of the metal rocketing to record highs earlier this year.

They wished to avoid a repeat of the 44-day walkout in Escondia, the world’s largest copper mine, in 2017.

IndustriALL’s global campaign urges BHP to enter negotiations “to address its poor record of ill treatment of workers, communities and environmental degradation across its global operations.”

Sustaining the Unsustainable: Why Renewable Energy Companies Are Not Climate Warriors

By Sean Sweeney - New Labor Forum, August 27, 2021

In the fight to address climate change, renewable energy companies are often assumed to be Jedi Knights. Valiantly struggling to save the planet, wind and solar interests are thought to be locked in mortal combat with large fossil fuel corporations that continue to mine, drill, and blast through the earth’s fragile ecosystems, dragging us all into a grim and sweaty dystopia.

In the United States and elsewhere, solar panels glitter on rooftops and in fields; turbines tower majestically over rural landscapes. The fact that, globally, the renewables sector continues to break records in terms of annual deployment levels is, for many, a source of considerable comfort. Acting like informational Xanax to ease widespread climate anxiety, news headlines reassure us that the costs of wind and solar power continue to fall, and therefore wind and solar is (or soon will be) “competitive” with energy from coal and gas. The transition to clean energy is, therefore, unstoppable.

By Any Means Necessary

Of course, wind and solar companies are not charities. They are, in a phrase, profit driven. They want to attract investment capital; they seek to build market share, and they all want to pay out dividends to shareholders. In this respect, renewable energy (and “clean tech”) companies are not fundamentally different from fossil fuel companies.

. . . [W]ind and solar companies are not charities. . . . In this respect, [they] are not fundamentally different from fossil fuel companies.

But so what? North-based environmental groups frequently point out that we have just a handful of years to start to make major reductions in emissions. Therefore, this is not a time, they insist, to split hairs or to make the perfect the enemy of the good. If electricity generation is the leading single source of CO2 pollution, then surely the more electrons generated by renewable sources of energy will mean fewer electrons being generated by fossil fuels. What more needs to be said?

But there are several reasons why, in their current role, renewable energy companies could be more part of the problem than they are part of the solution—which, if true, means a lot more has to be said. As we will see, they are beginning to squander their “social license” by being party to a “race to the bottom” dynamic that risks turning workers and many ordinary people against action on climate change. Equally serious, large wind and solar interests’ “me first” behavior is propping up a policy architecture that is sucking in large amounts of public money to make their private operations profitable.

They are sustaining a model of energy transition that has already shown itself to be incapable of meeting climate targets.[1] In so doing, these companies have not just gone over to the political dark side, they helped design it.

Mining and Green New Deals

By Sebastian Ordoñez Muñoz - The Ecologist, August 4, 2021

Mining that destroys communities and the ecosystem can have no part in any Green New Deal.

The recent mainstreaming of the Green New Deal framework has intensified scrutiny on oil majors.

However, the same cannot be said of global extractivist power - especially mining companies, who see the climate crisis as an opportunity to reinvent themselves and guarantee their bottom line. 

Supported by the World Bank, the mining industry has cynically positioned itself as key actors in the energy transition, claiming they are needed to provide the minerals and metals to meet growing renewable energy demand.

This series of articles has been published in partnership with Dalia Gebrial and Harpreet Kaur Paul and the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung in London. It first appeared in a collection titled Perspectives on a Global Green New Deal.

Batteries

Yet, many of these same companies are heavily invested in fossil fuel extractors, and are among the world’s highest corporate emitters.

The mining industry, along with other extractive industries, has been at the heart of a colonial model which continues to bring profits to multinational corporations and the wealthy few, while dispossessing countless communities of their lands, water and livelihoods and exploiting workers at the expense of their health and well-being.

Miners are also amongst the most mistreated workers in the world.

In July 2019, at least 43 artisanal miners died in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), due to a mine collapse at an industrial copper and cobalt mine owned by Anglo-Swiss multinational Glencore - cobalt is a vital part of electric car batteries.

Protest

UNICEF estimates that 40,000 children work in mining across the south of the DRC. Meanwhile, Glencore sees itself as part of the energy transition powering the electric vehicle revolution.

During the pandemic, multiple governments declared mining an essential activity, or responded to industry pressure to do so after a brief shutdown.

Mining operations became vectors of the disease - for workers and rural communities.

As companies profiteered from the pandemic, threats to land defenders exercising legitimate protest increased, and the regulatory groundwork was laid to reposition and bolster extractivist industries.

Just Minerals: Safeguarding protections for community rights, sacred places, and public lands from the unfounded push for mining expansion

By staff - Earthworks, June 17, 2021

Mining has harmful climate, equity, and resource impacts that, without reform, may ultimately undermine the benefits of transitioning to renewable energy. Building a sustainable economy based on clean energy gives us an historic opportunity to confront the legacy of injustice to Indigenous communities and damage to the public lands held in trust for future generations.

This report outlines how current federal minerals policy conflicts with the Biden-Harris administration’s clean energy and environmental justice agendas, and how those policies must change to ensure minerals are sourced in a way that better protects marginalized communities and the environment. The infrastructure to support the transition to low-carbon energy requires a variety of minerals—cobalt and lithium, among others. Just Minerals encourages government officials to prioritize recycling, reusing and substituting minerals needed for renewable energy technology over new extraction.

Among the report’s key findings:

  • Updating the rules that govern mining on public lands must be an integral part of this administrations’ environmental justice agenda, until Congress acts to reform the antiquated 1872 Mining Law. Even without Congressional action, the Biden administration has a variety of policy tools available to reduce the pressure to source minerals from irresponsible mines.
  • There is significant untapped mineral recycling and reuse potential available using current technology. With the right policies in place, we can create a more circular economy that may approximately halve global demand for certain minerals, like cobalt, lithium, and nickel, key to the clean energy transition.
  • Major consumers, including automakers and electronics companies, have also directed their suppliers to source more responsibly. Ford, Microsoft, BMW, and Daimler-Benz, among others, have committed to the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA), which independently audits and certifies environmental and social performance at mines.

Read the text (Link).

Deep-Sea Mining for Metals: Treading Carefully on the Path Toward Renewables

By Katherine Wilkin - Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, June 8, 2021

As the push for renewable energy sources continues as a means to combat climate change, the demand for metals and minerals that make up critical components of clean energy technology will be on the rise. While some of these minerals can be obtained via deep-sea mining, the environmental impacts of such efforts are not well understood. In moving to a clean energy economy, governments and international non-governmental organizations need to research, understand, and mitigate the negative impacts to the environment and communities that can and will result from activities like deep-sea mining before allowing projects to go forward.

The United States Geological Survey has identified 11 metals and minerals as critical commodities in renewable energy technologies: arsenic, gallium, germanium, indium, tellurium, aluminum, cobalt, graphite, lithium, manganese, and rare earth elements. Silver, copper, selenium, silica, nickel, and cadmium are also used in solar panels, wind turbines, and batteries. Several of these critical metals and elements can be obtained via deep-sea mining from three different types of deposits: (i) cobalt-rich crust that contains manganese, iron, cobalt, copper, nickel and platinum; (ii) polymetallic nodules which are rich in manganese, nickel, copper, cobalt, molybdenum and rare earth elements; and (iii) sea-floor massive sulphides which contain copper, gold, zinc, lead, barium and silver.

Whether deep-sea mining is necessary to acquire enough minerals to fuel the renewable energy shift remains an unanswered question. In a May 2021 report on the need for minerals to power energy transition technologies, the International Energy Agency predicted that by 2040, total mineral demand for clean energy will be four times current demand. Electric vehicles and battery storage technology account for about half of this predicted growth in mineral demand. The Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney indicated in 2016 that this increased demand for materials can be satisfied without utilizing deep-sea mining even under a target of 100% renewable energy use by 2050. Further, Carbon Brief reported in 2018 that reserves of lithium and cobalt are likely to be sufficient to meet demand, but there are outstanding concerns of supply chain bottleneck causing delays. This is supported by the IEA report, which indicated that problems in supply of minerals is more likely to be a matter of quality rather than quantity. However, a 2018 study supported by the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure found that the current supply of critical metals is not enough to transition to a fully-renewable energy system in the Netherlands. Additionally, a 2019 projection of demand for cobalt, lithium, and silver looking as far as 2050 found that “reserves” of these materials—a portion of total available resources that can be extracted economically—will not be sufficient to meet demand for cobalt, and demand for lithium can only be met in a “potential recycling scenario” with improved recycling rates over what is being conducted at present.

With the growing demand for metals and materials for use in renewable energy technologies, concerns arise about the environmental impacts and environmental justice implications of mining on land. For example, cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo have been the site of human rights violations, child labor, and severe environmental pollution. For that reason, deep-sea mining of these materials may present an option with fewer direct human impacts and environmental justice concerns.

Driving Destructive Mining: EU Civil Society Denounces EU Raw Materials Plans in European Green Deal

By various - Yes to Life No to Mining, June 2021

A global coalition of 180+ community platforms, human rights and environmental organisations, and academics from 36 nations is calling on the EU to abandon its plans to massively expand dirty mining as part of EU Green Deal and Green Recovery plans.

In a statement released in the middle of EU green week, the coalition explains why, if left unchanged, EU policies and plans will drastically increase destructive mining in Europe and in the Global South, which is bad news for the climate, ecosystems, and human rights around the world.

“The EU is embarking on a desperate plunder for raw materials. Instead of delivering a greener economy, the European Commission’s plans will lead to more extraction beyond ecological limits, more exploitation of communities and their land, and new toxic trade deals. Europe is consuming as if we had three planets available”, says Meadhbh Bolger, Resource Justice Campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe.

Coordinated by the Yes to Life, No to Mining Network’s European Working Group, the statement’s signatories are united in support of an urgent and rapid transition to renewable energy.

However, they argue that relying on expanding mining to meet the material needs of this transition will replicate the injustices, destruction and dangerous assumptions that have caused climate breakdown in the first place:

“The EU growth and Green Deal plans must consider a deep respect of the rights of affected communities in the Global South, that are opposing the destruction of their lands, defending water and even their lives. A strong collective voice is arising from affected communities around the Planet, denouncing hundreds of new mining projects for European consumption. Their urgent message needs to be heard in the North: Yes to Life No to Mining”, says Guadalupe Rodriguez, Latin American Contact Person for the global Yes to Life, No to Mining solidarity network.

“Research shows that a mining-intensive green transition will pose significant new threats to biodiversity that is critical to regulating our shared climate. It is absolutely clear we cannot mine our way out of the climate crisis. Moreover, there is no such thing as ‘green mining’. We need an EU Green Deal that addresses the root causes of climate change, including the role that mining and extractivism play in biodiversity loss ”, adds Yvonne Orengo of Andrew Lees Trust, which is supporting mining affected communities in Madagascar.

The statement sets out a number of actions the EU can take to change course towards climate and environmental justice, including recognising in law communities’ Right to Say No to unwanted extractive projects and respect for Indigenous Peoples’ right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent.

Read the text (PDF).

We can't mine our way out of climate crisis

By Hannibal Rhoades and Andy Whitmore - The Ecologist, May 25, 2021

A new and thorny environmental debate is breaking into mainstream conversations about climate breakdown.

We are going to need a vast supply of ‘transition minerals' like lithium and nickel - used in everything from wind turbines to solar panels to electric vehicles - if we are to papidly accelerate our switch to renewable energy.

Obtaining enough of these minerals while scaling up supply to meet rapidly growing demand represents a serious potential bottleneck in achieving global climate targets. How will we get these minerals and metals - and can we get them quickly enough?

Colonialism

This discussion has moved from activist and academic meeting rooms to the Washington DC, Beijing and Brussels. And mining corporations, ever-alert for a profit-making opportunity, have begun presenting themselves as our climate saviours.

Clean, green, sustainable, responsible mining, they say, will deliver the materials we need to meet our climate commitments. Policymakers have largely accepted the mining industry’s presentation of itself in these glowing terms.

Critical minerals task forces and industrial alliances are proliferating among wealthy nations. The aim is finding ways to secure supply. Governments around the world - both in the Global South and the North - are competing to attract foreign mining investment, often linked to the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

For anyone who cares about climate justice, this is not good news.

Industrial-scale mining is synonymous with a long history of colonialism, oppression and ecological devastation. The industry has an appalling human rights record to this day where frontline communities and workers are concerned.

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