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Our Vision

Earthworks supports the transition to a 100% renewable energy economy that no longer depends on fossil fuels—an essential shift to avoid climate catastrophe. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change the way the world is powered and shift away from dirty extraction. 

But we cannot replace one harmful system with another. We can build a more equitable energy system where all communities have access to energy that is produced in a way that upholds human rights and protects the environment.

What’s at Stake

Renewable energy technologies are competitive and growing rapidly. Yet the lifecycle of this technology begins with industrial mining that generates toxic waste, pollutes freshwater, threatens ocean health, and often violates human rights and Indigenous Peoples’ right to self-determination.

Skyrocketing Mineral Demand

Renewable energy and battery production rely on minerals such as cobalt, nickel, lithium and copper. Demand for these minerals is skyrocketing, driving the expansion of mining on Indigenous lands and in biodiversity hot spots – even to the depths of the ocean through proposed deep-seabed mining. It is estimated that more than half of new mining for energy transition minerals will come from the territories of Indigenous Peoples. Although many of the minerals required to meet this demand will come from countries in the Global South and the territories of Indigenous Peoples, many of these same communities lack access to energy.

Mining is Getting Dirtier and Riskier

Mineral extraction already brings devastating harm to people and the environment, fueling human rights, worker rights and Indigenous Peoples’ rights violations, water pollution and biodiversity loss, and deforestation. Metals mining is the leading industrial polluter in the United States, and contributes 10% of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. As mining technology advances, the footprint of mines and their resulting toxic waste grows. As demand rises, so do the costs of mineral extraction to humans and the environment.

The Path Forward

We can meet our climate goals while also protecting community health, water, human rights and the environment from the harmful impacts of mining. The transition to renewable energy sources must be responsible, just and equitable and that means:

  • Upholding Indigenous People’s right to self-determination and Free, Prior and Informed Consent, per the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and ILO 169.
  • Prioritizing and improving circular economy solutions that reduce the overall demand for primary metals such as reuse, reduction, recycling, and design for disassembly. 
  • Ensuring that sourcing at existing mining operations adheres to legally binding regulations that protect communities and the environment; companies undertake mandatory human rights due diligence on their supply chains, and that there is stringent independent, third-party verification of compliance.

We can reduce the need for new mining by improving our ability to reuse/recycle EV batteries and creating transportation options that reduce car dependency.

Earthworks’ Role

Earthworks holds the mining industry to account for its safety, human rights, and environmental practices. We fight for communities’ right to make decisions about mine projects that will affect their wellbeing, livelihoods, and territories. We work in coalition to pressure companies purchasing minerals to clean up their supply chains and demand governments prioritize policies that protect communities and the environment, including by enacting circular economy solutions. 

We are:

  • Advocates supporting Indigenous People and frontline communities through direct support, corporate advocacy, public policy advocacy,  and government accountability. We educate companies purchasing metals for renewable energy about the risks and harms of mining, and what they must do to ensure responsible sourcing.
  • Conveners building and supporting diverse networks and coalitions to ensure alignment, solidarity and collaboration at the cross sector of mining and the energy transition. We align campaigns targeting the automaker sector on a variety of labor, environmental and human rights issues.
  • Experts generating research and analysis on strategies to ensure the clean energy transition does not sacrifice mining-impacted communities and ecosystems. We have commissioned reports on responsible minerals sourcing, the environmental and social footprint of mining for battery minerals, and the potential of remining to help meet demand for transition minerals.
  • Allies: Earthworks is a member of the SIRGE Coalition, which aims to ensure Indigenous Peoples rights, especially the right to self-determination, are respected in the global transition to a green economy. Earthworks is also a member of Lead the Charge, an international coalition of human rights and environmental organizations  that ranks companies’ environmental and human rights performance in order to drive improvements across the supply chain.

Additional Insights