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U.N. Warns of Devastating Environmental Side Effects of Electric Car Boom

July 2, 2020

By Paul Homewood



The United Nations (U.N.) announced Sunday the electric car boom will result in a number of devastating ecological side effects for the planet.

While the shift to electric cars reflects ongoing efforts to reduce the world’s dependence on fossil fuels, the UN warns that the raw materials used to produce electric car batteries are highly concentrated in a small number of countries and their extraction and refinement pose a serious threat to the environment.

The U.N. trade body, UNCTAD, has issued a new report breaking down some of the unintended negative consequences of the shift, which include ecological degradation as well as human rights abuses.

The report notes that metals such as cobalt, lithium, manganese, copper, and minerals like graphite “play a significant role in energy-related technologies such as rechargeable batteries that are used in a variety of applications ranging from electronics to electric vehicles as well as in renewable energies such as nuclear, wind, and solar power.”

Several of these raw materials are quite rare and have few or no substitutes and they come from specific areas of the globe. More than half the world’s supply of lithium, for example, a key component of lithium-ion batteries, comes from beneath the salt flats in the Andean region of Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina.

The production of these raw materials “is often associated with undesirable environmental footprints, poor human rights and worker protection,” the report asserts.

In Chile, for instance, “lithium mining uses nearly 65% of the water in the country’s Salar de Atamaca region, one of the driest desert areas in the world, to pump out brines from drilled wells,” the U.N. notes, because nearly 2 million liters of water are needed to produce a ton of lithium.

This has “contributed to environment degradation, landscape damage and soil contamination, groundwater depletion and pollution,” the U.N. states.

In its report, UNCTAD estimates that some 23 million electric cars will be sold over the coming decade and as a result the market for rechargeable car batteries is forecast to rise by over 700 percent in just four years, from its current level of $7 billion to $58 billion by 2024.

Along with lithium, another key component of electric car batteries is cobalt, and two-thirds of all cobalt production happens in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), The U.N. observes.

The U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reports that about 20 percent of cobalt supplied from the DRC comes from artisanal mines, “where human rights abuses have been reported, and up to 40,000 children work in extremely dangerous conditions in the mines for meagre income.”

The U.N. also fears that cobalt-copper mines in DRC may contain sulphur minerals that contribute to Acid mine drainage (AMD), a phenomenon that causes pollution or contamination of surface water, thereby increasing the toxicity of rivers and drinking water.

“The environmental impacts of graphite mining are very similar to those associated with cobalt mining,” the report adds.

Last December, a prominent professor at the Copenhagen Business School said that attempts to rein in global warming by driving electric cars were nothing other than “pointless virtue signaling.”

“It is absurd for middle-class citizens in advanced economies to tell themselves that eating less steak or commuting in a Toyota TM-0.18% Prius will rein in rising temperatures,” stated Bjørn Lomborg, the director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center and author of The Skeptical Environmentalist.

“Although I am a vegetarian and don’t own a car, I believe we need to be honest about what such choices can achieve,” Lomborg declared.

Although electric cars are “branded as environmentally friendly,” the fact is that “generating the electricity they require almost always involves burning fossil fuels,” he stated.

“Moreover, producing energy-intensive batteries for these cars invariably generates significant CO2 emissions,” he wrote, so that electric cars have a huge carbon deficit when they hit the road, and “will start saving emissions only after being driven 60,000 kilometers.”

Even if the percentage of electric cars in the world were to rise to 15 times their present numbers, electric cars would only reduce global CO2 emissions by 1 percent, he declared, citing a report from the International Energy Agency (IEA).

For his part, IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said that in 2018, electric cars saved 40 million tons of CO2 worldwide, sufficient to reduce global temperatures by a mere 0.000018°C — or a little more than a hundred-thousandth of a degree Celsius — by the end of the century.

“If you think you can save the climate with electric cars, you’re completely wrong,” Birol said.

  1. grammarschoolman permalink
    July 2, 2020 10:26 am

    Soon to be used as the dictionary definition of irony.

  2. Pancho Plail permalink
    July 2, 2020 10:32 am

    It starts to make coal and oil look attractive propositions.

  3. Mike Jackson permalink
    July 2, 2020 10:33 am

    Am I allowed to tear my hear out in frustrated rage or should I just hunker down in a corner and laugh myself hysterically to death??

    The only upside is that we must, surely, be reaching a tipping point when the ludicrously self-contradictory antics of these pillocks becomes apparent even to the blindest and most gullible (think Emma Thompson, inter alia) of their useful idiots.

    You really really really could not make this stuff up!

    • July 4, 2020 11:39 am

      However Mike. Given that this whole charade is based on bits and pieces of (non) science as confirmation how about another crisis far easier to refute scientifically which has been unleashed on the West as part of the marxist onslaught….. the fact that people can be any gender they want regardless of chromosomes and assorted dangly collections of objects. When something so easy to refute is now finding its way into law what hope is there for the rest of us who know a bit of physics and a bit of geology and do not think like 4 year olds?

      • July 4, 2020 11:44 am

        I write this in the ultimate land of virtue signalling consumerism where the middle class buy electric cars because the state gives them sweeties ( reductions in toll charges and vehicle road tax, any of can and WILL be taken away at a moment’s notice)…That fairy land is.Norway. Also it is the only real “green” energy country in Europe as all of it’s energy came from hydro which the greens paradoxically hate. Their latest brilliant idea has been to increase the supply charge for electrikery by 40%…to pay for windmills!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. July 2, 2020 10:34 am

    “Be careful of what you wish for” seems to be a good response to this. You couldn’t dream it up could you? The very perpetrators and catalysts for the whole climate scam which is predicated on saving our environment, and thus is driving such as the change to electric cars, is now saying “hang on we got it wrong, its actually bad for our environment”. Sadly its costing industry trillions in misinformed strategy changes, which will be another coin in the coffin of the free world order and democracy. So what’s coming next? Battery storage for renewables – for sure, and much more from this huge nonsense.

  5. July 2, 2020 10:37 am

    Electric car bust seems more likely than boom.

  6. Jackington permalink
    July 2, 2020 10:40 am

    Why do we have to read about this in Breitbart with its limited circulation – why is not headline news in MSM including broadcast media? The story itself has already been covered in GWPF publications.
    Another thought is it may whet peoples appitite for hydrogen fuels – not that this is any better!

  7. Chilli permalink
    July 2, 2020 11:08 am

    Colour me sceptical about these alarmist claims – along with all other UN alarmist claims. One thing you can guarantee is UN reports will always be anti-business, anti-freemarket and pro-handing more money and power to the UN to investigate and regulate these industries. How about we let the free market and the will of the people in those countries sort it out – as has always happened with new industries from the industrial revolution onwards.

    • Broadlands permalink
      July 2, 2020 2:10 pm

      Skeptical indeed… “But one must say clearly that we redistribute de facto the world’s wealth by climate policy…One has to free oneself from the illusion that international climate policy is environmental policy any more.”
      —Ottmar Edenhofer, Co-chair of IPCC WG III, New American, Nov. 19, 2010

    • Ben Dussan permalink
      July 3, 2020 7:57 pm

      resulting in the toxic contamination of the environment worldwide…..

  8. Harry Passfield permalink
    July 2, 2020 11:40 am

    So, when Green luddites demonstrate to stop fracking because of the risk to the water table in some part of the UK, and then drive home in their virtue-signalling EVs I guess it will never cross their tiny minds that mining the chemical components for their batteries has damaged the ground water for poor people in DRC and Chile. Defines hypocrisy in my book.

  9. It doesn't add up... permalink
    July 2, 2020 12:40 pm

    Another aspect of this is that China has been busy ensuring it controls the resources.

    You want to go green? Do as China tells you.

  10. Coeur de Lion permalink
    July 2, 2020 12:44 pm

    Enraging. See Professor Kelly in the GWPF website on the U.K. Climate Change Committee’s zero carbon by 2050 madness. U.K. will need was it two thirds of the global cobalt production to electrify their cars and vans. I must try and pass this to my daughter who had just bought a Nissan Leaf. No, I love her.
    The UN had said this???? Golly,

  11. Hugh Sharman permalink
    July 2, 2020 12:57 pm

    Your nose is unerring, Paul! Congratulations once again! A full week ahead of the FT and years ahead of BEIS. Yet the Tory-led HMG wishes to “lead the World” (what else?) in EV and lithium ion battery manufacturing!

    I do so hope some highly influential MPs are among your most faithful and influential readers!

  12. Mad Mike permalink
    July 2, 2020 1:00 pm

    I have a problem. I don’t know how I’m going to send this to all my family and friends (yes I have some left. Friends that is) without including a smug emoji. Maybe I’ll just send it to family as they have to talk to me whereas friends……..well you know where I’m going with this.

  13. John Halstead permalink
    July 2, 2020 1:06 pm

    IC engine manufacturers are too savvy to stop research, even though silly governments come up with threats to outlaw IC engines. Facts are that IC engines are becoming so clean now that by the time are mandatory, IC cars will be cleaner over their lifetime, and there won’t be enough lithium available anyway.

  14. Geoff B permalink
    July 2, 2020 2:05 pm

    A petrol/diesel engine is largely made of iron(steel) and aluminium the two most abundant elements on earth. Iron by weight and Aluminium by number of atoms. There is plenty of oil around as well. The body of a ice car is mostly low cost steel while many electric cars have aluminium because of the weight of the battery. EV’s do not have much going for them.

    • MrGrimNasty permalink
      July 2, 2020 2:20 pm

      Also much easier to recycle an ICE vehicle economically positively, as the useful bits are easily separated and in big chunks, whereas the costly materials in the potentially hazardous/toxic batteries…………

      • Chaswarnertoo permalink
        July 2, 2020 5:00 pm

        One of the reasons a Jeep is environmentally friendly with a 20 mpg 5 litre V 8. Everything is unboltable and recyclable.

  15. Broadlands permalink
    July 2, 2020 2:15 pm

    It appears that the tip of the iceberg is getting larger? Never mind batteries, toxic materials are now leaking out of solar panels. Where to locate these broken “renewables” pales when one considers what the world will do with all those unusable ICE vehicles were PV vehicles to take over.

    • Harry Passfield permalink
      July 2, 2020 2:26 pm

      Where to locate the waste? Why, in all those enormous salt caverns that will be looking for customers when the hydrogen dream evaporates.

  16. July 2, 2020 3:31 pm

    yes, there are negative side effects of all technologies. Human civilization is a form of chemical reaction that alters the environment. So, what is your point exactly?

    Ever heard of Exxon Valdeze? Or Deepwater Horizon?

    • July 2, 2020 4:26 pm

      And your point is…. ever heard of natural seepages of this natural part of the Earth’s biological system? With BOTH the Exxon Valdez and Deep Water H substantial and long term harm was done by using detergents and not letting nature do what it does with naturally occurring seeps….which is to eat it. Do you actually understand what oil and gas are fossilized sun energy. To create the life which formed them sunlight, energy is used to turn CO2 and water into biomass. Burning oil just reverses the process. That CO2 also was part of the Carbon Cycle and contributed to it being seriously out of sync for 160 million years but more on that later. Yes concentrations overwhelm a local environment for a short while and if allowed to be dealt with naturally there will be an explosion of life as a consequence. This does not mean that the oil industry has not learned from its mistakes. However, more than a bit disingenuous to try and pull this as a comparison but cheap shots are par for the course. The oil industry does not make green claims about itself. That the non renewable renewables joke industry does this leaves it wide open to challenges of hypocrisy and demonstrating a wilful intention to deceive. Imagine if it was not windmills but for example Nuclear Power cooling towers which were killing birds. The “un”biased MSN would be all over it as would all the politicized charities like the RSPB in the UK. Their hypocrisy stinks also. Money buys silence and there is no one more reprehensible than a creature who points the finger while doing the exact same or similar thing while claiming all kind of environmental indulgences all of course while getting filthy rich.

      • Mad Mike permalink
        July 2, 2020 4:55 pm

        You are quite right. I remember many years ago the head of BP was castigated heavily about a big oil spill in the Gulf. It cost BP quite a packet as it interfered with people’s livelihoods for a time but he said that spills happen all the time a bacteria eats it all up quite naturally. Although he was speaking the truth, that didn’t go down too well with the Greenies as you can imagine. There are small spills from drilling platforms and ships all the time and yes we might be in trouble if it wasn’t for it being eaten up. i don’t think we will be bailed out this time by creatures munching on all the turbine blades that are being buried as a form of recycling. You won’t that little bit of inconvenient information carried by the BBC.

      • Mad Mike permalink
        July 3, 2020 11:53 am

        I didn’t look very far but found this on oil eating bacteria. Seems that there are quite a few different ones which grow in numbers with an increase in food supply like in an oil spill. Who’d have thought. They only have a few days though before other factors kick in to disperse the oil.

    • MrGrimNasty permalink
      July 2, 2020 5:44 pm

      Thing is ‘mf’, oil being a natural product, nature is well equipped to clean up and recover.
      In the immediate aftermath it looks ugly, but it isn’t actually serious even in the short term.

      Whereas industrializing a high proportion of the remaining natural earth surface with low-efficiency power harvesting technology like windmills and solar, will, without any doubt, hasten the extinction of many species. This policy is already killing millions of bats/birds a year, taking out a high proportion of critical raptor populations every year, and responsible for the destruction of hundreds of millions of trees globally including ancient forest.

      It’s the leverage of fossil fuels (or nuclear) that allows the human race to put aside more land surface for nature, and to have the money and time, the luxury, for real conservation work.

  17. Dan permalink
    July 2, 2020 3:31 pm

    I did a quick and dirty calculation of Greta’s drive across America and found that in terms of carbon emissions, she might as well have used a petrol/diesel alternative.

  18. July 2, 2020 4:10 pm

    This shows the reality of the Green Blob and what disgusting and dangerous people are manipulating useful idiot Joe and Josephine public who will argue till the cows come home (if they are still allowed) that their nice new Twatsla is as gween as gween as gween and hath no emithuns at all which they bought replacing their perfectly good diesel or petrol car. The lack of reporting of this statement of the bleedin obvious as well as other crimes against Western humanity by the MSN reinforces my view that they are a mouth piece only for some very dangerous people.

  19. markl permalink
    July 2, 2020 4:47 pm

    My understanding is the reason the raw materials come from underdeveloped countries isn’t because that’s the only places they are found but due to cheap labor and lack of environmental and health concerns.

  20. July 2, 2020 7:12 pm

    I am surprised that this report has been published by the UN. I would thought that it’s internal censorship system would have redacted much of it; as it greatly undermines the Green Agenda. I expect, however that the media will not be encouraged to give it much attention. Particularly the BBC et al.

  21. July 3, 2020 12:58 am

    “20 percent of cobalt supplied from the DRC comes from artisanal mines, “where human rights abuses have been reported, and up to 40,000 children work in extremely dangerous conditions in the mines for meagre income”

    More about child labor in the DRC cobalt mines.

  22. Ben Dussan permalink
    July 3, 2020 8:00 pm

    is this debacle any better than the current debacle of the toxic contamination of the environment worldwide caused by “human” activities?

  23. Gamecock permalink
    July 5, 2020 9:31 pm

    ‘The United Nations (U.N.) announced Sunday the electric car boom will result in a number of devastating ecological side effects for the planet.’

    Not to worry. Petitio principii.

  24. Spurwing Plover permalink
    July 10, 2020 3:05 pm

    So now maybe they can move the whole UN ever to Moscow and everybody can walk there because its going to be hard to wade across the ocean like that

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