The climate emergency is finally front and centre in the minds of global leaders, with plans and strategies abounding on how we can transition to a low-carbon future. We are just weeks away from the start of the long-awaited climate conference in Glasgow, but COP26 is not the only show in town. This weekend sees the start of the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Marseille. Among the many pressing issues on the agenda, there is arguably none more urgent than the deep-sea mining debate.
We are all familiar with the wider context within which this debate is raging. Business as usual is no longer an option. To reach our targets, we need to change behaviour, embrace new technologies and implement significant mitigation projects. All hands to the wheel. We have to decarbonise our practices. We must decouple from fossil fuels and develop alternative forms and sources of energy. And that’s precisely what Fauna & Flora is demanding from our government and corporate partners.
One pathway to decarbonisation leads us down the road to a lithium-ion future that is massively dependent on metals – and on our ability to mine them in sufficient quantities. As battery-powered alternatives for everything from vehicles to smart energy grids are explored, there remain significant concerns around the sustainability of available battery technologies. Many battery materials, including heavy metals such as nickel and cobalt, pose tremendous environmental and humanitarian risks. Cobalt in particular, which is mined mainly in central Africa, has come under fire for careless and exploitative extraction practices.
It doesn’t have to be this way, of course. One alternative is to make a quantum leap forward, to break free from that dependency on metals by embracing emergent ideas and brilliant new solutions and leapfrogging to zero-emissions and low-footprint opportunities. In this context, huge progress is being made on a number of fronts.
A number of notable reports have been published in recent years highlighting the likelihood of increased demand for mineral commodities. In 2017, the World Bank published The Growing Role of Minerals and Metals for a Low Carbon Future, which concluded that the rise of green energy technologies required to make decarbonisation a reality would lead to considerably higher demand for a wide range of minerals and metals.