Behind every clean electric car there is cobalt. And behind cobalt is the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Cobalt is a critical element in lithium-ion batteries used in electric cars. Such batteries already consume 42 per cent of the metal and demand will soar as the world switches from petrol and diesel cars to electric ones.
This week, Britain followed France in declaring a ban on such vehicles from 2040. Soon, almost anyone in the rich world will be able to drive safe in the knowledge that they’re being kinder and gentler to the planet.
Did I mention the Democratic Republic of Congo? Some 60 per cent of the world’s cobalt comes from this central African country, one the size of western Europe and with gargantuan problems to match. Some industry analysts are predicting a 30-fold increase in cobalt demand by 2030, much of which will come from Congo.
Cobalt prices doubled in the past year alone. You might imagine the average Congolese would be thrilled by the prospect of the coming bonanza. But if history is any guide, the average Congolese will gain little — save perhaps from militia violence and perhaps a dangerous, poorly paid job.
In Congo, they say, you can find every element in the periodic table. But this abundance has not done its people much good. A recent report by Global Witness found that 30 per cent of revenue paid to state bodies by mining companies from 2013 to 2015 — about $750m — simply vanished.
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