The social and environmental complexities of extracting energy transition metals

Lebre, E., Stringer, M., Svobodova, K., Owen, J. R., Kemp, D., Cote, C., Arritia-Solar, A. & Valenta, R. K. (2020) The social and environmental complexities of extracting energy transition metals. Nature Communications. 11. 4823.

Low-carbon technology requires energy transition metals, but often the extraction of these metals occurs in high-risk contexts with large potential for social and environmental damage. As demand is only set to grow, it is likely that stresses on extractive centre will continue to increase as terrestrial mining projects expand to meet market needs.

Developing a set of global composites environmental, social and governance (ESG) indicators and applying them to 20 metal commodities, this research considers the co-occurrence of environmental, social and governance risks associated with each material. The results show that high-risk contexts surround many of the materials that are most essential for the green energy transition are situated in high-risk contexts, such as cobalt, or are set to increase in ESG risk with predicted future expansion, such as copper.

Low ESG risk contexts need to be found and maintained while supplying the metals necessary for energy transition, so that the adoption of renewable energy and clean technology does not come at the expense of human wellbeing or the environment.

The full paper can be found here.