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141 organizations call on COP26 climate negotiators to commit to centering human rights & environmental impacts of mining, including for battery minerals

Today 141 signatories from human rights and environmental organizations, grassroots communities and unions from 30 countries worldwide sent a declaration to COP 26 climate negotiators stating that climate solutions must center the human rights of Indigenous, frontline communities, and workers at mining, recycling, reclamation, manufacturing and renewable energy projects. Signatories include Amnesty International, Earthjustice, First Peoples Worldwide, Human Rights Watch, Sierra Club, and the United Steelworkers.

As the transition from fossil fuels to low-carbon energy becomes increasingly urgent, so does the need to ensure the demand for minerals to fuel that transition does not recreate the same systems it aims to destroy.

“We are concerned about the impacts of extracting minerals, such as lithium, cobalt, nickel and copper for renewable energy technologies on communities, workers and ecosystems around the world,” the declaration states.

Metals mining, responsible for at least 10% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, is arguably the world’s dirtiest industry, and operates largely outside of any international standards. It has a long track record of environmental degradation, corruption, human rights abuses, destruction of sacred sites and dangerous working conditions. With mineral demand for renewable energy technologies projected to skyrocket, particularly for battery metals being used in electric vehicles, mining is only becoming riskier and more dangerous.

The declaration calls for:

  • Centering the human rights of Indigenous, frontline communities, and workers at mining, recycling, reclamation, manufacturing and renewable energy projects, by prioritizing the right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent, including the right to withhold consent as aligned with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
  • Prioritizing low-impact circular economy solutions that reduce the overall demand for primary metals such as reuse, reduction, recycling, and design for disassembly while ensuring health and safety protections for workers and communities.
  • Mandatory human rights due diligence, legally binding regulations to protect human rights, the environment and sacred sites, and stringent international environmental and human rights standards with independent, third-party verification of compliance (such as the IRMA Standard for Responsible Mining). 
  • Implementing transformative, rather than merely technological, solutions that shift away from disposable consumption and private transportation to more equitable access to services and low-carbon public transit. 

“The climate crisis cannot be solved by mining that sacrifices Indigenous Peoples and clean water. Climate justice includes shifting the paradigm away from extraction, pollution and genocide, and returning to a balanced and restored relationship with the natural world,” said Nuskmata, a member of the Nuxalk Nation, who will deliver the declaration to COP26 delegates in Glasgow. “Our homelands and people are not sacrifice zones. These are the lands and waters that raised us and continue to sustain us. We have a responsibility to take care of our home, and each other.”

Additional statements from declaration signatories:

“Our clean energy future cannot be built on dirty mining, given its track record of human rights abuses, environmental harms and greenhouse gas emissions. We have an opportunity to accelerate the transition to renewable energy while minimizing new mining, safeguarding community health, human rights, and ecosystems.” –Payal Sampat,  Mining Program Director, Earthworks

“The move from harmful extractive models to regenerative and sustainable financial practices requires absolute focus on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, particularly to the activation of Free, Prior and Informed Consent. By including Indigenous Peoples in all projects that impact them, and working through the concerns and opportunities from Indigenous communities, corporations and enterprises everywhere can better ensure an equitable and just transition and create solutions to the climate crisis that have impacts for all beings on this planet.” –Kate R. Finn, Executive Director, First Peoples Worldwide

“If the global community is serious about tackling the problem of climate change, it must include the input of the very people that have been caring for Mother Earth for centuries–Indigenous Peoples–and take a rights-based approach that honors, respects, and implements the principles of Free, Prior and Informed Consent and UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.” –Galina Angarova, Executive Director, Cultural Survival 

“We must save the planet for our survival by adopting green energies and re-thinking their waste management, but not by centering on creating more profits, as industrialists would want. We need to be wary of impacts that renewable energy has that repeat the same mistakes with mining as the current extractive industry and think about sustainable and just ways for the future.” –Carson Kiburo, Executive Director, Jamii Asilia Centre, Kenya

“Mining corporations will use whatever talking points they need to justify their destructive projects. I do not think more renewable consumption should justify the destruction of the living environment, especially if cultural traditions and sacred land are destroyed.” –Sukhgerel Dugersuren, Head of Oyu Tolgoi Watch, Mongolia

“Most plans for the energy transition ignore mining, and in particular the mining of rare earths minerals, which are currently used for a number of high-tech purposes. Rare earths mining and processing require large amounts of toxic chemicals, contaminate water, and leave piles of radioactive wastes. They are currently planned for the western Black Hills of Wyoming, where they would also destroy sacred landscapes and violate Lakota treaty rights.  A just energy transition must include Free, Prior and Informed Consent from tribal nations, as well as thorough research, consideration, and implementation of alternatives to rare earths mining.” –Lilias Jarding, Ph.D. Black Hills Clean Water Alliance, USA

“Currently, the world has begun to think about the disastrous consequences of its economic activities, and in the near future we will see a boom in the development of a green economy. However, the consequences of developing a green economy can be detrimental to Indigenous Peoples, whose lands will begin to be extracted for resources to benefit a green economy. And now, while this boom has not yet begun, it is necessary to provide for all mechanisms and strategies that protect the rights of Indigenous peoples from possible tragedies.” –Pavel Sulyandziga, Batani, Russia

“The energy transition is essential if we are to combat the climate crisis, but human rights and the environment must not become a casualty of the likely huge increase in mining. Corporations must operate responsibly, and respect human rights – and governments need to hold them to account.” –Mark Dummett, Global Issues Programme Director, Amnesty International

The declaration can be read in its entirety here

Brendan McLaughlin, +1 (206) 892-8832, bmclaughlin@earthworksaction.org