Electric vehiclesEnergy

There’s a catch to the federal election pledges for zero-emission vehicles

Leaders of all political colors are vowing to expand the zero-emission transportation industry through investments and incentives as a major instrument to combat the climate issue as the federal election approaches. However, there is a catch.

To position Canada as a pioneer in the electrification of transportation, more minerals must be extracted to power that expansion. Minerals such as graphite, lithium, cobalt, and nickel are used to power electric vehicles’ batteries.

Given the consequences of the alternative, which is to continue to rely on fossil fuels for transportation, the shift is necessary. According to Natural Resources Canada, the transportation industry in Canada presently accounts for roughly 25% of the national greenhouse gas emissions, or approximately 180 megatonnes of the carbon dioxide equivalent per year. “Unless there are quick, rapid, and large-scale cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, restricting warming to nearly to 1.5 C or even 2 C will be beyond reach,” the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment cautioned.

Canada had more than 200,000 electric cars on the road by the end of 2020, and according to forecasts from the International Energy Association, that number may climb to over 2.5 million by 2030. The question is, how does the electric car sector’s growth seem from a landscape perspective?

After getting federal approval in August, a new lithium-tantalum mine in northern Québec is slated to begin production in 2024. Five additional lithium mines in the state are in various phases of exploration and investment. Over the course of its 20-year existence, the fresh Critical Elements Corporation mine is going to emit an anticipated 74,000 tonnes of the carbon dioxide equivalent each year. Mining corporations are targeting cobalt reserves in the Northwest Territories. Mining activity is picking up across the country as demand for other minerals rises for zero-emissions transportation, clean energy, and other growing industries. Advocates for ethical mining practices point out that extracting those minerals has its own set of environmental and social consequences.

In an interview with The Narwhal, Nikki Skuce, who is the co-founder of the BC Mining Law Reform Network, said, “One of our worries is that the shift to the low-carbon sources of energy and electric vehicles comes at the expense of bad legacies and mining consequences.”

Skuce, for example, had mentioned the ongoing impact of the Mount Polley mine accident in B.C., which occurred in 2014 when a tailings dam failure resulted in the spilling of 24 million cubic meters of mining waste into an essential salmon watershed.

The rise of the electric car sector, according to Merran Smith, who serves as the executive director in charge of the Clean Energy Canada, might be a stimulus for Canada to solve some of these challenges and avert future calamities. “The possibility for battery production, which will need an increase in minerals and metals,” she stated in an interview, “is a possibility for us to truly guarantee we clean it up to mining from the environmental and social perspective.”

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