There is no known policy framework to maximize the value and longevity of global reserves for key metals associated with EV batteries, while mitigating risk of environmental and human harm. The general tendency has been to treat mining for battery resources as an “industry” problem and defer to status quo norms in the global mining sector. This passive approach is prone to calamity, because the mining industry’s rush to secure sufficient supply of essential metals coupled with the automotive industry’s motivation to keep its costs low will likely lead to environmental and human rights abuses (as has already been observed in the cobalt mining industry, among others). Early adopters of electric vehicles may bristle at such abuses, but mass adoption of EVs means there will be a much less environmentally- and socially-conscious customer base in the near future — particularly when these specialized materials are essential for a large portion of the world’s daily transportation needs.
So, the time to act is now. By focusing on sustainable, ethical best practices for EV battery mining, policy makers and clean transportation advocates have a rare opportunity to affect positive change before intractable problems emerge. This is also the point in time when advocates have the greatest leverage, because investors in the mining industry have only recently realized that electric vehicles will reach critical mass in the short- to mid-term and that the value of battery-related materials is significant. Establishing robust policies to adopt best practices now can create market entry requirements and incentives that ensure positive outcomes for decades. In the absence of an existing comprehensive policy framework, this section highlights the key policy considerations across relevant thematic areas.