Vast quantities of minerals are needed to accelerate the transition to a clean energy future. Minerals and metals are essential for wind turbines, solar panels, and batteries for electric vehicles. But Indigenous peoples have raised concerns about more mining on their lands and territories.
A new study led by authors John Owen and Deanna Kemp, published today, supports First Nations peoples’ concerns. We identified 5,097 mining projects involving about 30 minerals needed in the energy transition. Some 54% are located on or near Indigenous peoples’ lands.
These lands are valuable ecologically and culturally. Their soils, and land cover such as forests, store carbon which helps to regulate the planet’s climate. Typically, the lands are also intrinsic to Indigenous peoples’ identity and way of life.
Energy transition minerals are essential to tackling climate change. But First Nations people must have a genuine say in where and how they’re extracted.
When minerals and communities collide
The International Energy Agency projects lithium demand for electric vehicle batteries will grow 40 times on current levels by 2040. Our study found 85% of the world’s lithium reserves and resources overlap with Indigenous peoples’ lands.
Demand for nickel and manganese is projected to grow 20-25 times. We found 75% of manganese and 57% of nickel reserves and resources also overlap with these lands.
Copper and iron ore are essential for power generation, as well as its transport, storage and use. Some scenarios predict an increase in copper demand of more than 250% by 2050. We found 66% of the world’s copper and 44% of iron reserves and resources overlap with Indigenous peoples lands globally.
Overall, across the 5,097 projects in our study, 54% are on or near Indigenous peoples’ lands. And almost one-third are on or near lands over which Indigenous peoples are recognised as having control or influence for conservation purposes.
Free, prior and informed consent
Last year, Indigenous groups and from around the world signed a declaration calling on climate negotiators at the COP26 United Nations Climate Change Conference to commit to sourcing transition minerals more responsibly.
They also called on governments and corporations to obtain the “free, prior and informed consent” of Indigenous peoples in decisions that affect them.
This type of consent is enshrined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It means Indigenous peoples should be able to accept or reject mining on their traditional lands, and to negotiate conditions such as protecting natural and cultural heritage.
Mining has hugely complex repercussions and can cause severe harms to societies, the environment and human rights. Consultation and consent processes take time. Companies and governments seeking to extract resources in haste are likely to fail to meaningfully engage with communities.
If new mining projects are fast-tracked, there is a huge risk of corners being cut. Without proper consultation and legal protections, the future supply of transition minerals could put Indigenous peoples’ lands at greater risk.