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Functioning electric cars and mobile phones are often a result of child labour and environmental destruction. More than half of the world’s cobalt, a key ingredient in the lithium-ion batteries used to power iPhones and electric cars, comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo - and about one fifth of it is mined by hand, according to a report published in 2017 by Amnesty International. Amnesty said in the report it had documented both children and adults in the country mining cobalt in narrow, man-made tunnels where they risked fatal accidents and lung disease. As the use of electric mobility becomes more mainstream, demand for the raw materials that make it possible will surge. Demand for cobalt, for example, is projected to increase to about 170 kilotonnes per year by the year 2030, according to a report published in 2019 by the International Energy Agency, while demand for lithium is expected to increase to roughly 155 kilotonnes per year. In addition to human rights concerns tied to cobalt mining, there are worries that there simply may not be enough to go around; a 2018 European Commission publication projected that the metal may be in short supply starting in 2025. Efforts are being made to better track the sourcing of the materials necessary to foster the growth of more environmentally-friendly electric transportation, and facilitate digital communication. The World Economic Forum’s Global Battery Alliance, for example, includes members like the African Development Bank, Google, and Honda Motors, and has formed both a cobalt working group focused on the Democratic Republic of the Congo that is designed to ensure small-scale mining does not employ child labour, and a lithium working group focused on Latin America. Efforts are also being made to draw greater attention to the environmental problems associated with mining the elements necessary for the batteries powering cars and electronics. Both miners in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and people living in communities near these mines are often exposed to high levels of toxic metals, and studies have shown a link between the presence of mines and birth defects, according to a report published by the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative and the United Nations Global Compact in 2018.

The Human and Environmental Cost of Batteries

KEY TRENDS

Next Generation Batteries