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"We have to think more widely than just climate change, for the sake of climate change"

"We have to think more widely than just climate change, for the sake of climate change"

January 16, 2024, by Estelle Levin-Nally, CEO and Founder


All hail the climate revolution! At last, we have the world’s attention on the issue that so motivated me in my Geography class in the 90s. However, getting climate change onto the agenda is only a small part of the battle. We won’t achieve social and environmental justice if we pursue climate change mitigation in a vacuum.

As we kick off 2024, the tension between the need for transitioning to cleaner energy and therefore scaling minerals supply as quickly as possible whilst doing it as ethically and sustainably as possible is at the top of my mind. Nowhere is this requirement more visible than in our sector, as we see every day in our cross-value chain work.

I am deeply concerned about the mounting evidence that some industry and government are trading off human rights and nature because we are so desperate to get minerals out of the ground as fast as possible, turning “critical raw materials” into a risk as well as an opportunity. Motivations range from the desire to expedite the energy and digital transitions, to simply profiteer, or to buck against the shifting geopolitical order due to BRICS+ countries’ enormous influence over green energy and transition minerals value chains. In countries including Indonesia and India, civil society and media reporting have surfaced examples of already weak human rights and environmental safeguards that are now under pressure in the race to access minerals. This is why our team of experts centres the impacts a project might have on people and planet across all the work we do.

Drawing on learning from projects we delivered in 2023, I’d like to highlight a key for this situation as we start 2024: climate change tunnel vision.

Climate change tunnel vision

Climate change tunnel vision is where policy makers, industry, finance and science are so focused on solutions for carbon mitigation that they will pursue it at all costs, without consideration for other planetary boundaries, appalling injustices against people and nature, or the negative feedback loops that occur from their narrow focus. We are suffering from the inability of decision-makers to navigate and account for complexity.


  • How regeneration of ocean biodiversity could support both climate change adaptation (food security through recovery of fisheries) and mitigation. This includes carbon sequestration due to recovery of biomass through marine protection and regeneration activities and the management of pollution from toxic wastes such as nutrients from agriculture, micro-plastics, mine tailings (for which there is progress), sewage, etc. Yet we are looking to mine the deep sea, ostensibly to protect biodiversity on land and avoid human rights issues like child labour, without fully understanding how such activity could impede ocean regeneration or expedite ocean system collapse. Demonstrating increased awareness of the issue, in 2023, clients ranging from climate change foundations to multistakeholder initiatives asked us to advise on deep-sea mining.
  • How parts of the carbon offsetting industry are violating human rights. The mining and minerals industry is one of many sectors that uses offsets as part of their strategies to be carbon neutral. How confident are we that miners are not connected to these or other human rights violations? This is a question we had to grapple with when Levin Sources decided to offset its emissions through ACES Vanga Blue Forest. We selected this project because of its robust methodology to account for carbon. As a charity that supports community-led conservation projects, ACES's preservation efforts are more likely to last and not get degraded. You can learn more about our own transparent approach to offsetting in our 2022/2023 Carbon Footprint report.
  • How we still do not fully afford Indigenous peoples the self-determination, dignity and respect they merit as guardians of knowledge and stewards of natural and cultural heritage. It is particularly egregious when the human rights violations conducted in the name of climate mitigation are against Indigenous communities who protect 80% of biodiversity. ​​A​ 2022 study showed that 54% of over 5,000 mining projects scheduled to extract minerals for the energy transition were on or near Indigenous people’s lands. This proximity means that Indigenous communities are disproportionately affected by the negative social and environmental impacts that stem from mining projects, especially when their rights to use their land isn’t recognised.
  • How marginalised people all over the globe still have to fight for a seat at the negotiation table, even though climate change has a disproportionate impact on them. Yet we all benefit from better inclusivity. Although mounting evidence shows that more inclusive institutions are more resilient and successful, Azerbaijan, as organisers of COP 29, appointed an all-men organising committee. Last year, we published a piece about LGBTQIA+ rights in mining, an under-analysed area of human rights and supported an investor assess the indigenous rights implications of their minerals processing investments in a Scandinavian country.

So, we have to think more widely than just climate change, for the sake of climate change! Although there is still a lot to do, encouraging progress in 2023 to facilitate this includes:

  • The release of the OECD’s Handbook for Environmental Due Diligence in Minerals Supply Chains, which provides an introduction to addressing environmental issues in the upstream segment of mineral supply chains. I am proud that Levin Sources carried out the initial research, drafting and consultation for this Handbook.
  • The Global Battery Alliance launched the world’s first battery passport proof of concept. Levin Sources led the production of two of the first three rulebooks on child labour and human rights.

  • The Science Based Targets Network published the first science-based targets for nature, which companies in our sector can now use to assess their environmental impact. The targets make accounting for impacts more measurable and monitorable and thus reportable to the board that can then choose how to prioritise action on biodiversity loss and the degradation of ecosystem services, including climatic stability.

But there are also grave threats that could put the brakes on our progress to tackle climate change. From economic stagnation and the cost-of-living crisis to the erosion of democratic freedoms and human rights protections around the world, from the entrenchment of hyper-consumption and online life to our growing alienation from an increasingly barren and depleted natural world, and from increasing geopolitical bifurcation to, economic protectionism and conflict. The stakes feel very high just now.

Our role as a sector

The context in which we are trying to progress is working against us. The question I always go back to is: what can we, as individuals working in a sector pivotal to the energy transition, do? Here is what I am challenging my team to think about:

  1. Do climate mitigation, but do it diversely with eyes wide open to complexity, ears wide open to varied perspectives, and many hands working together. Consider all planetary boundaries. Ensure all climate change solutions are put through a polycrisis test: how does this solution, as presently conceived, elevate or minimise human rights and biodiversity risks or create an impulse towards or further past another planetary boundary’s tipping point? Our Responsible Investment team has been supporting financial institutions in conversations and early strategic work on how they think through these issues in their policy frameworks and lending and investment portfolios. Our responsible raw materials team is currently working on a project supporting the elimination of mercury usage in artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) gold extraction to stop the terrible damage done to local ecosystems and to the people using it.
  2. Prioritise domestic value addition. In the process of extracting minerals for the energy transition, we risk repeating old mistakes such as extracting without remedying or adding value in minerals-producing countries. To ensure producing countries and communities are the primary beneficiaries of mining on their land, we are putting conversations about value addition at the heart of our work and conversations with international organisations and states, ensuring that we can acknowledge previous mistakes in order to get it right this time.
  3. Help grow civic space. Listen to and support grassroots organisations, particularly human rights and environmental defenders. Help citizens hold to account their governments and industry affecting their land and communities. In 2022 and 2023, our Responsible Investment team led a consultative, multi-stakeholder process to understand civic space restrictions and how they hamper human rights risk assessment by financial institutions – the issues and potential approaches to strengthen risk assessment are set out in our public report.
  4. Continue to raise awareness and educate all corners of society on what (un)sustainable futures means for all of us. Speak to friends and your local community about how the problems we’re trying to solve at Levin Sources are fiendishly complex and the solutions will require sacrifices and trade-offs. This fundamental tenet of achieving our vision is why we continue to operate as a social enterprise, with a percentage of our time going annually to pro bono work and why our work embodies our core values of people and planet. As part of our pro-bono work, we assisted a European CSO with strengthening their arguments on the importance of a robust Directive on corporate sustainability due diligence. We’ve also worked with International Women in Mining on its mentoring programme, with the New York Declaration on Forests on its annual report and with the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights on Report writing.
  5. Be kind. When we demonstrate to people that we care (one of the reasons why we became B Corporation certified in 2023), we can build workplaces and communities where caring is expected and valued. We can challenge conventions that privilege economic value above all else and remind people that meaning comes from more things than money – friendship, community, purpose, hope, progress.

May your 2024 be full of cooperation, learning, purpose, and peace.

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