The Decarbonisation Divide: Contextualizing Landscapes of Low-Carbon Exploitation and Toxicity in Africa

Global Environmental Change 60 (2020) 102028

19 Pages Posted: 15 Jan 2020

See all articles by Benjamin K. Sovacool

Benjamin K. Sovacool

Science Policy Research Unit; Department of Business Technology & Development

Andrew Hook

University of Sussex - Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU)

Mari Martiskainen

University of Sussex - Science and Technology Policy Research Unit (SPRU)

Andrea Brock

University of Sussex

Bruno Turnheim

University of Manchester - Alliance Manchester Business School

Date Written: December 27, 2019

Abstract

Much academic research on low-carbon transitions focuses on the diffusion or use of innovations such as electric vehicles or solar panels, but overlooks or obscures downstream and upstream processes, such as mining or waste flows. Yet it is at these two extremes where emerging low-carbon transitions in mobility and electricity are effectively implicated in toxic pollution, biodiversity loss, exacerbation of gender inequality, exploitation of child labor, and the subjugation of ethnic minorities. We conceptualize these processes as part of an emerging “decarbonisation divide.” To illustrate this divide with clear insights for political ecology, sustainability transitions, and energy justice research, this study draws from extensive fieldwork examining cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and the processing and recycling of electronic waste in Ghana. It utilizes original data from 34 semi-structured research interviews with experts and 69 community interviews with artisanal cobalt miners, e-waste scrapyard workers, and other stakeholders, as well as 50 site visits. These visits included 30 industrial and artisanal cobalt mines in the DRC, as well as associated infrastructure such as trading depots and processing centers, and 20 visits to the Agbogbloshie scrapyard and neighborhood alongside local waste collection sites, electrical repair shops, recycling centers, and community e-waste dumps in Ghana. The study proposes a concerted set of policy recommendations for how to better address issues of exploitation and toxicity, suggestions that go beyond the often-touted solutions of formalisation or financing. Ultimately, the study holds that we must all, as researchers, planners, and citizens, broaden the criteria and analytical parameters we use to evaluate the sustainability of low-carbon transitions.

Keywords: energy transitions, sustainability transitions

Suggested Citation

Sovacool, Benjamin K. and Hook, Andrew and Martiskainen, Mari and Brock, Andrea and Turnheim, Bruno, The Decarbonisation Divide: Contextualizing Landscapes of Low-Carbon Exploitation and Toxicity in Africa (December 27, 2019). Global Environmental Change 60 (2020) 102028. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3510082

Benjamin K. Sovacool (Contact Author)

Science Policy Research Unit ( email )

Falmer, Brighton BN1 9SL
United Kingdom

HOME PAGE: http://www.sussex.ac.uk/profiles/373957

Department of Business Technology & Development ( email )

Nordre Ringgade 1
Aarhus C, DK-8000
Denmark

HOME PAGE: http://pure.au.dk/portal/en/persons/id(fca10105-c4eb-4f0f-99a7-a354a8a8a47a).html

Andrew Hook

University of Sussex - Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU)

Brighton, BN1 9SL
United Kingdom

Mari Martiskainen

University of Sussex - Science and Technology Policy Research Unit (SPRU) ( email )

Mantell Building
Falmer
Brighton BN1 9RH UK, Sussex
United Kingdom

Andrea Brock

University of Sussex ( email )

Sussex House
Falmer
Brighton, Sussex BNI 9RH
United Kingdom

Bruno Turnheim

University of Manchester - Alliance Manchester Business School ( email )

Booth Street West
Manchester, M15 6PB
United Kingdom

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