World EV Day, which takes place annually on 9th September, provides a timely opportunity to reflect on the recent whirlwind growth of the global electric vehicle (EV) market—and the roadblocks that we still face in shifting away from carbon-emitting internal combustion engine ( ICE) vehicles.
In the UK, one in five new car sales are now electric. In the US, EV sales broke records in 2021, with approximately 83% more sales than in 2018, driven by the government’s pledge to make half of all vehicle sales zero-emission by 2030. EU countries are catching up and are now estimated to sell 4.4 million EVs in 2026, compared to 1.9 million in the US.
However, if we are to reach this target, and if global EV adoption is to continue increasing at its current rate, there are obstacles that must be overcome. The mass scale-up in EVs is not always as socially responsible or environmentally-friendly as consumers would believe. In fact, the production of electric vehicles can involve significant ESG risks, particularly in relation to human rights, carbon emissions and end-of-life management.
For example, 70% of the world’s mined cobalt, a key material in EV batteries, comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where approximately 40,000 children are estimated to work in mining and unsafe labour practices are common. Around 20% of the DRC’s cobalt supply originates from largely unregulated artisanal mines. Without appropriate governance and oversight, environmental issues such as water pollution and contaminated soil are often widespread.
Yet the ESG issues associated with the adoption of EVs go beyond just mining. They extend to refining the metals, producing additional components, assembling the vehicles, and end-of-life treatment. To illustrate this, less than 5% of li-ion EV batteries are currently recycled, which leaves much to be desired—particularly when consumers are purchasing EVs to be environmentally-friendly, and 7.8 million tonnes of EV batteries are set to reach their end-of-life by 2040.
Without systemic change across the value chain, EV adoption could well stall as end-users become disillusioned by their ESG impact
The future of e-mobility therefore hinges on transforming the EV value chain so that it is more socially and environmentally responsible, from start to finish. What is the point in governments introducing incentives and companies ramping up manufacturing for EVs, if they are no more sustainable than conventional vehicles? Without systemic change across the value chain, EV adoption could well stall as end-users become disillusioned by their ESG impact.
Cross-sector initiatives can play an important role in driving this change. The Global Battery Alliance brings together over 100 governments, academics, NGOs and businesses, including from the mining, chemicals, battery and automotive industries, to create a sustainable battery value chain. Its members, which include the OECD, Eurasian Resources Group, Tesla and BMW, are currently developing a ‘Battery Passport’ to provide end-users with important information about a battery’s make-up, usage and production, making it traceable across its entire lifecycle and improving recycling rates.
Initiatives like these are needed to improve supply chain transparency and provide a type of quality seal for EVs. On World EV Day, we must not only celebrate the global rise in EV ownership, but also renew efforts to ensure the sector’s overall long-term sustainability.
The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Automotive World Ltd.
Benedikt Sobotka is Co-Chair of the Global Battery Alliance and Chief Executive of Eurasian Resources Group
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