OPINION: GREEN TECH METALS FOR RENEWABLE ENERGY AND OTHER SMART TECHNOLOGIES NEED TO BE SOURCED SUSTAINABLY AND RESPONSIBLY. HERE’S HOW.
Climate change solutions — like solar energy, wind energy and electric vehicles — depend on rare earth elements. How we secure those elements matters.
Illustration by Sean Quinn
February 1, 2019 — The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on climate change argued that we must cut global emissions in half by 2030 in order to meet the goal of keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius as agreed to in Paris in 2015 at the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 21). In response to such dire predictions, the world is moving toward renewable and smart technologies at an accelerating pace.
Climate solutions, like solar energy, wind energy and electric vehicles, depend on rare earth elements. These so-called “green tech metals” have unique magnetic and luminescent qualities that make them very difficult to substitute with other elements. In 2017 the World Bank launched its first major study on green tech metals. The authors argue that meeting the Paris Accord will result in skyrocketing demand for metals like cadmium, neodymium and indium.
As countries transition to low-emissions economies, we need to make sure we source metals in an environmentally and socially sustainable manner. We can do so by committing to three practices: repatriating primary mining, recycling metals and repairing our technology rather than replacing it. This is not an impossible task and we can find inspiration from projects in Europe and Japan.
Nearly all green tech metals in the world today come from China, where they are mined under dangerous conditions to both people and ecosystems.
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