Land grabs and disappearing forests: are ‘clean’ electric vehicles to blame?, environmental news


Environmental news: As the world pushes to move away from polluting fossil fuels and go green with renewable technology, the popularity of electric vehicles (EVs) has increased. But now, rights groups say the industry’s growth is causing environmental destruction as well as harm to local communities in Indonesia, the Philippines and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Demand for EVs was initially slow, but orders have tripled over the past few years, with electric cars expected to account for 14 percent of total car sales in 2022, up from just 4 percent in 2020, thanks to rising environmental awareness and demand for cars. goes to the wide choice of. Offer to consumers.

The transport sector has long been a target for green activists as it contributes one sixth of global carbon emissions. But while sleek, battery-powered vehicles produced by companies like Tesla and Ford are being seen as a shiny solution to the issue, the EV industry is hiding a dark side of its own.

Reports from multiple rights groups in recent months have shown that increased mining of critical materials like nickel – the silvery-white metal used to make EV batteries – is harming many communities and, ironically, Indonesia. And environmental damage is occurring in the Philippines, home to the largest nickel reserves in the world.

Mining watchdogs have also warned about the harm caused by mining cobalt and coltan in the DRC – also important for EVs.

A series of Model Y electric vehicles are pictured during the start of production at Tesla’s Gigafactory in Grueneheide, southeast of Berlin, on March 22, 2022 (Patrick Plukpool/AFP)

How are communities being harmed?

According to recent findings by Climate Rights International (CRI), residents living near nickel mining sites on Halmahera island in Indonesia’s North Maluku province say they are forced by mining companies operating in the Indonesia Weda Bay Industrial Park (IWIP). And being threatened. , The region, one of the world’s largest nickel production sites, is home to nickel mines and nickel-smelting plants that supply international EV manufacturers.

In a 124-page report released in January, CRI alleged that companies mining in IWIP often colluded with police to force landowners in nearby villages such as Gemaf, Lelelef Sawi and Lelelef Vabulan to sell their land without or even Force you to leave without any compensation. , In some cases, community members, many of whom are farmers, say they have arrived on their land only to find tractors digging it up without their consent.

Some farmers who have protested against unfair prices, resisted land grabs or refused to sell have reportedly received threats from the police and military. Residents say that since construction of the park began in 2018, security officials have cordoned off the area.

The rights group found that forests are also being cleared on a large scale for mining in the area. CRI estimates that approximately 5,331 hectares (13,173 acres) of forest has been occupied for mining activities. Since trees store carbon, removing them means more emissions.

Last year, another rights organization, Survival International, warned that about 300 to 500 groups of O Hongana Manyawa, or “people of the forest”, in IWIP’s territory could be at risk of losing their homes if deforestation continued. .

Residents say working conditions are poor. In December last year, an explosion at the Chinese-funded Morowali industrial park on Sulawesi island killed 12 people and injured at least 39 others.

Furthermore, polluted water is being discharged from the park into the river, from where local people draw drinking water. The oily substance produced on its surface is now forcing fishermen from nearby Sageya village to venture further into the sea.

Additionally, according to CRI, to power the massive park, five polluting coal-fired plants producing 3.78 gigawatts annually have been installed. Members of local communities say the smoke coming from the plants is polluting the air and causing breathing difficulties.

nickel mining
A truck lifts soil containing nickel ore from a mine cut from forest on Halmahera island in eastern Indonesia in 2012 (Neil Chatterjee/Reuters)

Why is nickel so important?

For decades, nickel was primarily used to produce stainless steel due to its durability and ductile nature. In recent times, it has been used to manufacture car components such as wheels and bumpers.

But demand for the metal has skyrocketed since the push for renewable technologies, including EVs, has skyrocketed. This material forms the basis of lithium-ion batteries, which are used in electric vehicles. According to the Nickel Institute, a global association of nickel producers, demand for nickel grew 41 percent between 2010 and 2020.

Indonesia is strategically preparing itself for an EV-powered world. The country produced the highest amount of nickel in 2020, contributing 48 percent of global supply, and the administration of outgoing President Joko Widodo has implemented policies banning nickel ore exports, essentially ensuring Have done that nickel processors set up plants in the country.

Many big mining companies are investing money in this area. IWIP, built between 2018 and 2020, is one of several nickel processing parks being developed across Indonesia. The park is a joint venture between Chinese companies Tsingshan Group, which holds a 40 percent stake through its subsidiary Pearls Technology, Huayu Group (30 percent) and Zhenshi Group (30 percent).

French mining company Eramet has also partnered with Singhan and Indonesian steel company, PT Antam TBK, to manage the Weda Bay nickel mine, which supplies nickel ore to the smelting plants at IWIP.

Separately, Eramet and Germany’s BASF have plans for a nickel and cobalt refining facility, which is expected to produce 67,000 tonnes of nickel and 7,500 tonnes of cobalt annually at IWIP.

According to the Business and Human Rights Resource Center, Tesla receives nickel from Huayu and CNGR Advanced Materials, which partners with Singhaan and which has been involved in environmental pollution in Maluku as well as Central Sulawesi province. CRI found that Ford and Volkswagen also source nickel from companies mining within IWIP.

Indonesia nickel mine
A nickel production plant in Indonesia (Ulate Ifansasti/Getty Images)

Which other countries are affected?

Concerns have been raised for some time about mining practices in the Philippines, the metal’s second-largest producer and a major supplier to China.

In 2021, Amnesty International reported that many people working on nickel mining projects on the Dinagat Islands were being hired without contracts and health insurance, despite the risky nature of their jobs and violations of Philippine labor laws.

Mining companies in the area are predominantly Chinese and Philippine and include Sinosteel (Chinese state-owned), Cagadianao Mining Corporation (Philippine), Oriental Vision Mining (Philippine and Chinese), Libjo Mining (Philippine and Chinese) and Century Peak. Corporation (Philippines). ,

In the DRC, mining of cobalt and coltan, which are also key components in rechargeable batteries, has forcefully displaced communities in mineral-rich areas such as southern Lualaba province, Amnesty International and the Good Governance and Human Rights Initiative (IBGDH) report. ) Found in 2023.

The DRC has the world’s largest reserves of cobalt and is the seventh-largest producer of copper, but this has not benefited the Congolese people much. The country’s economy is stagnant due to decades of conflict and poor governance. Mainly Chinese companies, in partnership with state mining corporations, are extracting minerals there.

Like nickel, global demand for cobalt and copper has also increased since other smart electronic gadgets such as mobile phones and video game consoles became popular. A mobile phone battery typically contains about 7 grams (0.25 oz) of cobalt and 16 grams (0.56 oz) of copper. An all-electric bus contains 400 kilograms (882 lb) of copper.

What actions are being taken to combat these issues?

Very little official action has been taken.

In Indonesia, several advocacy groups are protesting and lobbying against the massive IWIP mining project, but it is unlikely to stop mining and refining processes there.

In its report, CRI recommended that the government intervene and order all companies to stop intimidation tactics, as well as strengthen laws protecting local communities from the consequences of mining. The group also wants the main companies involved in IWIP to clean up polluted water sources, compensate locals for stolen land, and switch to renewable energy.

As far as the DRC is concerned, an initiative established in 2009 by the International Tin Association and the Tantalum-Niobium International Study Center to help large buyers such as Apple, Intel and Tesla trace and verify their supply chains Was. However, a 2022 investigation by the investigative and advocacy group Global Witness found that despite this intervention, minerals obtained from mines using conflict minerals and child labor were still entering the global supply chain.

Although Tesla was indirectly included in that report, the automaker comes in third place in the ranking of EV makers based on responsible sourcing and fossil use. Ford and Mercedes-Benz top the list, while Toyota, Honda and GAC are at the bottom.

In the past, the US Dodd-Frank Act of 2010 had made a major contribution to reducing the supply of minerals in the DRC’s conflict zones – so-called “blood diamonds” – by forcing companies to disclose details of their supply chains.

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