Glob. Environ. Change (2020)

A transition to a low-carbon economy is necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit warming. The need to decarbonize has led to an upsurge in innovation in the energy, transport and technology sectors, with low-carbon electricity and electric vehicles gaining popularity as alternatives to fossil fuel use. But the growing interest in these new technologies comes with increasing demand for minerals and metals, as well as the need to recycle and dispose of electronic waste.

Credit: Marion Kaplan / Alamy Stock Photo

Benjamin Sovacool from the University of Sussex, UK and colleagues analyse the impact of the rising demand for low-carbon technologies on countries responsible for extraction of raw materials and disposal. They use case studies from cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo and electronic waste processing in Ghana. Through a combination of interviews and site visits, they find that decarbonization enhances existing vulnerabilities in the Global South, contributing to environmental degradation, ethnic and gender discrimination, and child labour. A suite of local and global policies is therefore required to ensure a just energy transition.