The global demand for cobalt — an essential component of lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles — has experienced a considerable boom for the past fifteen years. Cobalt mining in the Katanga Copperbelt was mostly industrial in the 20th century. By contrast, artisanal exploitation has increased from 2000 onwards and it is now estimated that informal diggers provide about 20 % of DRC’s total production, which in turn accounts for 60 % of world production. Environmental concerns of industrial exploitation, which represents about 80 % of DRC’s global contribution, have been neglected. Artisanal mining also negatively impacts the environment. After a century of mining, the cobalt load in the environment has become extremely high in Katanga. People are heavily exposed to it and other toxic metals — among others uranium — creating serious public health challenges. This paper further addresses the possibility of a shift towards more sustainable exploitation of cobalt in the DRC. Bottom-up schemes involving artisanal and small-scale mining — which represent domestic Congolese interests — in a negotiation process are likely to break the state-mining multinationals’ dominance. The mining sector should also be considered as one of the components within a wider system, including socio-economic sectors as well as environmental priorities. In a broader view, this local governance has to be mirrored by the setting of resource governance at global scale.
Paper presented at the meeting of the Section of Technical Sciences held on 28 March 2019. Text received on 27 June 2019 and submitted to peer review. Final version, approved by the reviewers, received on 27 April 2020.