The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres on Friday announced a group of experts to develop a set of global common and voluntary principles to safeguard environmental and social standards and embed justice, in the energy transition. 

A statement said António Guterres is leveraging the United Nations’ convening power to bring together a diverse group of governments and other stakeholders across the entire minerals value chain.

The group is comprised of Governments, intergovernmental actors, and Non-State Actors which include NGOs and agencies like the International Energy Agency and International Renewable Energy Agency.   

Government and intergovernmental actors group on the panel include the African Union, the European Union, China, DRC, South Africa, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and other countries known for possessing some of the critical minerals in the energy transition.

The Panel on Critical Energy Transition Minerals will be co-chaired by Ambassador Nozipho Joyce Mxakato-Diseko of South Africa and Director-General for Energy Ditte Juul Jørgensen of the European Commission.

The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres on Friday announced a group of experts to develop a set of global common and voluntary principles to safeguard environmental and social standards and embed justice, in the energy transition. 

The statement said António Guterres is leveraging the United Nations’ convening power to bring together a diverse group of governments and other stakeholders across the entire minerals value chain.

The group is comprised of Governments, intergovernmental actors, and Non-State Actors which include NGOs and agencies like the International Energy Agency and International Renewable Energy Agency.   Government and intergovernmental actors group on the panel include the African Union, the European Union, China, DRC, South Africa, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and other countries known for possessing some of the critical minerals in the energy transition. 

The Panel on Critical Energy Transition Minerals  will be  co-chaired by Ambassador Nozipho Joyce Mxakato-Diseko of South Africa and Director-General for Energy Ditte Juul Jørgensen of the European Commission.

It will address issues relating to equity, transparency, investment, sustainability and human rights.   “A world powered by renewables is a world hungry for critical minerals,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said at the launch of the Panel.

“For developing countries, critical minerals are a critical opportunity — to create jobs, diversify economies, and dramatically boost revenues. But only if they are managed properly. The race to net zero cannot trample over the poor. The renewables revolution is happening – but we must guide it towards justice.”

“In establishing the Panel, the UN Secretary-General is commendably responding to a normative gap identified by many countries, especially developing countries, related to critical minerals and rare earths required for sustainable development and just transitions,” Ambassador Mxakato-Diseko said.

“The objective of the Panel, aligned to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the United Nations Framework Agreement on Climate Change and its Paris Agreement, is to build trust and certainty towards harnessing the potential of these minerals to be utilized to unlock shared prosperity, leaving no one and no place behind”.

EU’s Director-General for Energy Ditte Juul Jørgensen said the global energy goals agreed at COP28 require a rapid scale-up in the manufacturing and deployment of renewables globally and critical energy transition minerals.  

“I am honored to have been asked by the UN Secretary-General to co-chair this panel and help develop principles to ensure a fair and transparent approach globally and for local communities in the entire value chain, – upholding the highest sustainability and human development standards.”       

Limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, to avert the worst impacts of climate change, will depend on the sufficient, reliable and affordable supply of critical energy transition minerals such as copper, lithium, nickel, cobalt, and rare earth elements, which are essential components of clean energy technologies – from wind turbines and solar panels to electric vehicles and battery storage.          

At COP28, governments agreed to triple renewable energy capacity by 2030. There is no pathway to achieving this goal without a significant increase of supply of critical energy transition minerals.     According to the International Energy Agency, mineral demand for clean energy applications is set to grow by three and a half times by 2030 on the pathway to reaching global net zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.     

Uganda is among the countries with some of the critical minerals like cobalt and rare earth discovered in Makutu in Eastern Uganda.   Developing countries with large reserves of critical energy transition minerals have an opportunity to transform and diversify their economies, create green jobs, and foster sustainable local development. However, mineral resource development has not always met this promise. Increased demand for these minerals and their geographical concentration risk perpetuating commodity dependence, exacerbating geopolitical tensions, and posing environmental and social challenges with adverse impacts on sustainable development including on livelihoods, the environment, health, human security, and human rights.  

Responding to calls from developing countries for globally agreed guidance to ensure responsible, fair and just value chains, the UN-convened Panel brings together governments, intergovernmental and international organizations, industry, and civil society to build trust, guide the just transition and accelerate the race to renewables.

The panel builds on existing UN initiatives, particularly the Working Group on Transforming the Extractive Industries for Sustainable Development and its flagship initiative on ‘Harnessing Critical Energy Transition Minerals for Sustainable Development’ and will draw from existing standards and initiatives to strengthen and consolidate existing efforts.    

The Context of Critical Mineral and Energy Transition             

Rising global temperatures have prompted the urgency for a global energy transition. Electric vehicles are seen as clean because they don’t produce fumes that deplete the ozone layer. However some of the materials that are used in producing batteries can have large carbon footprints. The environmental impacts of extracting minerals like cobalt, lithium, copper, and graphite are a major concern.      

In countries like DRC where most of the minerals are mined, there can be issues of human rights abuses and the benefits to communities. With the high demand for these minerals, there have been concerns about possible market domination by just a few producers.  

Clovis Freire, the Chief of the Commodities and Analysis sector at UN Trade and Development (UNCTAD) the critical minerals are so important today because of the Energy transition. 

“The fact that we need to mine them on a very large scale brings all the challenges of mining come to the forefront,” he said. It has been observed that mining of those minerals if not done sustainably could harm the environment by polluting the water and air. There are concerns about the likely social and human rights issues.

“In many of the places that we have these mines, you have conditions that may be very harmful to human rights and labor rights issues,” explained Clovis Freire.

The fear that many communities could be displaced during the mining of those minerals tends to come up.

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