A coalition of businesses, international organizations and NGOs have banded together to put an end to the social and environmental impacts driving the growing trade in batteries for smartphones, gadgets, electric vehicles and renewable energy storage systems. Launched at the World Economic Forum Sustainable Development Impact Summit 2017, the Global Battery Alliance aims to create a responsible value chain for the battery market powering the technology and clean energy revolution.
Analysts have estimated that a 12-fold increase in battery capacity is needed to meet growing consumer demands and the transition to a low-carbon economy. The market is expected to reach $100 billion by 2025 and batteries installed in homes and businesses will account for 57 percent of global energy storage capacity by 2040.
However, meeting such demand will have considerable social and environmental costs. There have been reports of child labor used in the mining of cobalt and materials such as lithium, nickel, manganese and graphite have been linked to pollution, water shortages and other environmental and social concerns. And it is not just the cradle-to-gate process that has raised a red flag — questions have been raised about how to handle the ever-growing number of spent lithium-ion batteries, as there is not currently enough infrastructure in place to enable a circular economy for batteries. This means billions of dollars of valuable materials and economic opportunities are going to waste.
“The phones may be smart, but the system is certainly not sustainable. All the electronic waste we discarded in 2014 was worth $52 billion. It contained 300 tons of gold and significant amounts of silver and palladium. To get these rare minerals and metals so that all our phone, car and toothbrush batteries work smartly, many poor people are paying a terrible cost, as is the environment. We keep a smartphone or tablet on average for just 26 months and then we throw it away, battery and all,” said Dominic Waughray, Head of Public-Private Partnerships for the World Economic Forum.
“The Global Battery Alliance seeks to fix this, with companies, NGOs and international organizations coming together to clean up supply chains and reuse battery waste. The World Economic Forum, as the international organization for public-private cooperation, is pleased to lend its platforms and networks to help advance this important project.”
The Alliance has laid out three key priorities: aligning the battery supply chain with the Sustainable Development Goals, driving innovation and supporting the development of policy principles across the G20 to harness the battery value chain for global economic convergence and catch-up.
Supporting the alliance are BASF, Enel, the Eurasian Resources Group, Johnson Controls, NEC Corporation, Royal DSM, Trafigura Group, Umicore, Veolia, Volkswagen, White & Case, OECD, the African Development Bank, UNICEF, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, the China Chamber of Commerce of Metals, Minerals & Chemicals Importers and Exporters (CCCMC) and civil society organizations International Justice Mission Pact and the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.
“We want to ensure that everyone benefits from the growing demand for alternative energy. It is vital that future energy supplies include ethically sourced storage solutions,” said Benedikt Sobotka, CEO of Eurasian Resources Group, a natural resources producer with cobalt mining operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“Unfortunately, there is almost a 100 percent chance that your smartphone or electric vehicle contains cobalt that comes from child workers in artisanal mines. Although creating new ethical energy sources will help, we all need to do whatever we can to put an end to child labor. The Alliance has a critical role to play in achieving this objective.”