The Human Cost of a Green Energy Transition Without Safeguards

  • Opinion by Olivier Ndoole Bahemuke (goma, democratic republic of congo)
  • Inter Press Service

As a human rights lawyer in the Democratic Republic of Congo – which has the world’s largest cobalt reserves and among the largest copper reserves – I represent communities and ecosystems in Virunga, Kahuzi Biega, Okapi and elsewhere that have suffered numerous human rights violations as a result of the extraction of these minerals.

Home to the second-largest tropical forest in the world and vast mineral wealth, the DRC has exceptional natural resources. However, the country has faced a complex humanitarian crisis since 1994; plagued by war and violence in the eastern regions which has led to conflict, poverty, malnutrition and recurring epidemics.

The people I represent have been forcibly evicted from their land due to mining operations by extractive companies; major human rights violations and violence that accompany the mining process; and loss of clean air, soil and water because of destructive mining practices. Certain companies exploit land in protected areas in violation of national laws, and fail to respect due diligence standards in place for businesses.

Corruption is rampant – Chinese and Canadian companies, among others, wield influence on public institutions to cut corners and avoid living up to their obligations. The exploitation of copper, cobalt and other strategic minerals by multinationals in the DRC has a significant impact on thousands of farmers and their villages. They also have a negative effect on their livelihoods and cultural values. In the pursuit of their interests, multinationals extracting minerals from the DRC have no respect for the rights of peasants, national laws, climate emergency needs or social safeguards.

People living in areas surrounding mining operations suffer endemic poverty and health crises amid wider energy and climate injustice. Children are not allowed to go to school, land is being expropriated and evicted, rivers are polluted and women and girls are exploited. It shouldn’t be like this for communities in resource-rich nations such as the DRC. There should be some minimum guidelines in place to safeguard against such violations.

States in the Global North and Global South should set up a major strategic coalition to ensure compliance with due diligence standards and strengthen the corporate social responsibility of extractive companies. This coalition should include:

* Monitor and evaluate national and international mechanisms of mining investment.
* Improve local community’s knowledge of international law and best practices on human rights and investments;
* Legal support to victims of environmental and land injustices caused by mining operations
* Develop the technical and scientific expertise of civil society organisations to monitor and evaluate impact;
* Stop investing in fossil fuels that negatively impact livelihoods of people, biodiversity, and land and invest instead in sustainable alternatives.
* Strengthening legal reforms in order to better protect climate and social safeguards; prohibiting the exploitation certain natural resources that are more destructive. Developing community guidelines for rights and legal measures against investment.
* and decolonise energy narratives.

Over 13 kg of cobalt are needed to produce the battery for an average electric vehicle, and around seven grams are required for a cell phone. Demand for cobalt, which has tripled since 2010, is expected to reach 222,000 tonnes by 2025.

Without a major shift to put in place safeguards in the supply chain, extractive industries will continue to ride roughshod over the rights of local communities, and we will sadly see an escalation of human rights violations.

We need to act fast to stop this. We need a global monitoring programme and far-reaching legal reforms for a fair energy transition that prioritises the human rights of local communities.

    Olivier Ndoole Bahemuke

, from Goma, eastern DRC, is described as a leader among environmental and land defenders in the country and one of the most trusted advocates on behalf of communities impacted by land grabs, trafficking, and illegal resource extraction activities. He was the Africa regional winner of Front Line Defenders’ 2023 Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk.

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(c) Inter Press Service (2023) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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