Carmakers make joint pledge to make battery supply chains sustainable

For all the benefits they bring in terms of low-carbon power and transport

Along with large firms from the mining, chemicals and energy sectors, the auto-sector giants have joined the Global Battery Alliance following talks at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week.

Now representing organisations with combined revenue of $1trn, the Alliance works to shift battery value chains in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) agenda and its 10 guiding principles, which cover human rights, labour, the environment and anti-corruption.

The Alliance claims that battery-enabled electrification of the global transport and power sectors could reduce sector-wide emissions by up to 30% by 2030, bringing electricity to 600 million people in developing nations in the process. But it is also acutely aware of the multiple environmental and social issues created by battery value chains.

On the environmental side of things, resources such as cobalt are now being extracted so rapidly to fulfil demand from the technology and transport sectors that shortages are on the horizon. Globally, more than 100 billion tonnes of natural resources are extracted each year, and less than 9% reused, it was revealed at Davos. The end-of-life of batteries is also problematic, due to technological and infrastructure challenges relating to reuse and recycling. Recent research found that the one million EVs sold in the UK in 2017 alone will generate 250,000 tonnes of battery waste when they reach the end of their lives – likely in the early-to-mid-2030s.

Battery value chains also present a myriad of human rights and social issues. Tech, for example, is considered the world’s most at-risk sector for forced labour in supply chains, given its reliance on mining and chemicals. A high-profile lawsuit at present revolves around 13 Congolese families with members who were killed or injured while mining for cobalt, with researchers estimating that 35,000 children in the DRC are forced to work in the industry.

In order to tackle these challenges simultaneously – along with concerns around emissions – the Global Battery Alliance has developed a set of key principles which it will encourage businesses and policymakers to support. They are:

  • Maximising the productivity of batteries
  • Enabling a productive and safe second life use, circular recovery of battery materials
  • Creating new jobs, additional economic value and contributing to the establishment of a low-carbon economy by:
  • Ensuring transparency of greenhouse gas emissions
  • Securing their progressive reduction
  • Prioritising energy efficiency measures
  • Increasing the use of renewable energy
  • Fostering battery-enabled renewable energy integration, high-quality job creation and skills development

As of this week, the Alliance’s business members are Volvo, Audi, BASF, BMW, Enel, Groupe Renault, Honda, Trafigura, Umicore and Volkswagen Group. Other industry participants include the Eurasian Resources Group (ERG), the World Bank, UNICEF, Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Government of Japan, African Development Bank, Good Shepherd International Foundation, Pact, and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD).

“We all need batteries to power the clean revolution,” World Economic Forum managing director Dominic Waughray said.

“However, we must ensure violations of human rights do not occur anywhere in the value chain, that local communities benefit and that battery production is sustainable. These guiding principles are an important first step to build a value chain that can deliver on this promise while supporting societies and economies at the same time.”

Sarah George

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