The auto industry is the largest aluminum buyer in the world, and therefore holds the power to shape the future of aluminum. Automakers should use their leverage to drive fossil-free aluminum production that respects the environment and human rights.
The aluminum sector produces about 2% of the world’s annual greenhouse gas emissionsSource
Automakers are expected to double their aluminum consumption by 2050Source
Mines, smelters, and refineries for producing aluminum can threaten access to food, water supply and the right to an adequate standard of livingSource
Fossil-free & Environmentally Sustainable
Alumina refining and aluminum smelting are responsible for over 90% of the aluminum industry’s direct greenhouse gas emissions, and these processes are often powered by burning coal. If the indirect emissions from power generation are included, then these account for 70% of total (direct and indirect) aluminum production emissions. Switching to renewable energy to operate smelters and refineries is therefore essential for the aluminum industry to get on track with a Net Zero pathway.
Mining and refining bauxite, the raw input for aluminum, also presents environmental risks. Waste from bauxite mines can contaminate rivers, streams and groundwater sources that communities rely upon for household consumption and irrigation.
Refining bauxite into alumina produces large amounts of red mud, a highly hazardous material that, unless treated and stored properly, can pollute waterways and harm people who come into contact with it. For example, communities in northern Brazil are bringing a group-action lawsuit against an aluminum producer over pollution from the incorrect disposal of toxic waste.
The auto industry must leverage its considerable buying power to drive demand for fossil-free aluminum that doesn’t lead to environmental degradation.
Human Rights & Responsible Sourcing
According to Human Rights Watch, ”bauxite mining, because it occurs at the surface level, requires access to large tracts of land, often forcing the resettlement of homes or villages, reducing access to farm and pasture land, and threatening communities’ access to housing, food, and the right to an adequate standard of living.”
There are multiple instances globally of bauxite mining and refining violating human rights. In Australia, bauxite mining has historically occurred on land belonging to Indigenous Peoples, who were historically forcibly displaced from or dispossessed of their ancestral lands. A farmer in Guinea estimated that a bauxite mine had destroyed 80 percent of his village’s farmland. In 2010, the failure of a dam in Hungary flooded more than 250 homes, killing at least 10 people and injuring 150 people.
Without proactive intervention from automakers to drive up standards at mines, refineries, and smelters, human rights abuses will continue to blight the industry’s supply chains.