Text by Isaline Coquard and aku suoknuuti
The questions about sustainability and the attempt to establish a world with more equity between the three pillars of sustainability which are social, environmental and economical aspects. These aims were written within the sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) established by the member states of the United Nations in the frame of the Agenda 2030. The life cycle of batteries is linked with SDGs in different ways, with positive or negative impacts, and direct and indirect effects. If we take the example of cars, the electric vehicle will have a direct positive impact to reduce CO2 in comparison to usual cars which use gas. This decrease of CO2 is released by the electric power, in this way, there is a positive impact on SDG 13 due to the climate action by decreasing carbon emission. On the other hand, this decreasing permits to have some indirect effects on the atmosphere, and ocean in an environmental way (SDG 14). So, there will be an impact on humans because they could breathe better air with less Greenhouse Gas Emissions, and we could add the positive indirect impact on SDG 3. But, this goal is controversial by other negative impacts, for example on health when some people manipulate mineral and non-mineral components in battery processes. “However, an Indirect negative impact is assessed for SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth). It is difficult to predict whether the transition from combustion to electric vehicles impacts economic growth, but there is a clear risk it negatively impacts the working environments and increases child labour in mining. Increased battery production requires increased mining of e.g. lithium and cobalt, and such mining activities have frequently been associated with poor working environments and child labour” (Chalmers, 2019).
The mining processes draw some negative impacts especially in link with water resources. The extraction process of ores requires the use of water in addition to other toxic substances to separate the ores from the stone. These toxic substances can escape in nature and become the starting point of pollution. The negative effects affect SDG 13 and 14 contaminating the ecosystems and water reserves. Due to this impact on water, there are other indirect effects on SDG 6 and 3 because the water resource cannot be used by the population for their proper need, for their croplands. Finally, this contaminated water can have a negative indirect effect on the health of the population.
Battery issues included in the rise of the demand questions about the increased need for minerals in the frame of SDGs are huge questions especially in the circular economy pattern because today there are some controversial points between the positive and negative effects. Even so, we can see a real awareness due to some developments and innovations for batteries. For instance, the Finnish Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment edited some goals for the future years in the SDGs aims, stating that “in 2025 the Finnish battery cluster will be a forerunner that provides skills, innovation, sustainable economic growth, well-being and jobs for Finland”. This sector aims to be more and more important in a sustainable way on a global scale.
I hope we managed to arouse some new thoughts or ideas in you with this blog. The great thing in science is that it’s not always about the answers – but setting out the questions. Our aim here was to address some of the challenges, which have to be taken into consideration while creating carbon neutral policies. As the previous paragraphs address, there are several environmental and social risks around the mining business. According to our findings, the cross-sectioning question is anyhow strongly related to geography – which part of the world should take care of these problems? As a part of the global north, we argue Finland should be responsible for the minerals we use, and the course seems to be on the right way. Our country has various inventions related to urban mining, and NAOF (which was in co-operation running this course) has just released a new paper that encourages Finland to the sustainable mining acts.
Chalmers, G. M. V. (2019). The SDG Impact Assessment Tool-a a free online tool for self-assessments of impacts on Agenda 2030. Policy, 1, 150-167.
Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment of Finland. (2021). National Battery strategy 2025.