Cobalt mining shows clean energy revolution comes at a price – by Zoe Dawson (Irish Times – December 2, 2018)

Zoe Dawson is from Dublin and studying for a master’s degree in global affairs at New York University.

As the global transition to clean energy has progressed, demand for cobalt has rocketed. A natural metallic element, cobalt has unique properties that make it a key component in the production of batteries.

Until recently, smartphones and laptops drove demand for batteries; however, the growing market for electric vehicles and renewable-energy power storage has resulted in a surge in the demand for cobalt.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is one of the world’s wealthiest countries when it comes to natural resources and contains half of the world’s cobalt reserves. Despite the country’s natural mineral wealth, however, many challenges persist there. To facilitate the emerging clean and sustainable economy the world is highly dependent on a mineral produced via some of the most criticised practices, with no one being held accountable for the human-rights abuses taking place.

As governments of major world economies including China, the UK, Germany and France have announced restrictions or bans on vehicles using internal-combustion engines, the market has responded, with a a rapid expansion of the production of electric vehicles. Whatever the benefits of the move away from fossil fuels, it has other implications too.

‘Artisanal’ mines

Reports on cobalt mining in the DRC illustrate unethical practices taking place. A growing number of unmonitored “artisanal” mines crawl with barefoot children filtering the cobalt with their hands, in harsh and dangerous conditions.

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