If there were ever a time to mass-produce solar energy, it’s right now, according to the U.N. To stave off the most catastrophic effects of global warming, the world needs to rapidly shift away from fossil fuels and into large-scale solar, wind and energy storage, the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said this week.
But if the clean-energy boom isn’t managed carefully, it could fuel mineral conflicts in developing countries. That’s according to a recent report from the International Institute for Sustainable Development, which urges governments and corporations to source minerals responsibly to avoid “grievances, tensions and conflict.”
Solar panels, wind turbines, electric cars and batteries are all high-tech devices, and like other technology, they rely on tiny amounts of rare minerals to work.
Elements like cadmium, selenium and cobalt, as well as the base metals that go into these technologies, are often concentrated in countries with weak central governments, rampant poverty and other conditions that have fueled war or worker exploitation. Without action from governments and corporations, these have the potential to become modern-day blood diamonds, the report warns.
“It’s inevitable, we’re going to need a lot more wind turbines and solar panels,” said Alec Crawford, a senior researcher at the IISD and a co-author of the report. “We have to think carefully from a government perspective, corporate perspective, how we’re going to get those minerals.”
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