Renewable energy has been massively promoted as one of the solutions for reducing emissions. With Paris Agreement targets and United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) commitments on the horizon, the need for critical materials that go into the making of renewable energy would increase fourfold to achieve the targets for below 20°C by 2040. Manganese mining is one of the key elements for innovative development of renewable energy. While low-carbon energy innovations are certainly needed, the sustainability aspects of mining must be taken into account in the search for raw materials. However, existing mining operations are alarming due to their social and environmental impacts.
Taking the case study of Manganese mining in Manggarai District of East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) Province, Indonesia, this article highlights the social and environmental risks of seeking out the very materials that are needed for a renewable energy transition. The study examines how existing manganese mining operations are involved in water competition and social conflict with Manggaraian indigenous communities. Most of the springs communities use for drinking water and carrying out traditional rituals overlap with the mining permit area.
Under the current law of Indonesia, those sites could be cleared anytime for mining. The current policy of Omnibus Law is to increase investments in renewable energy. Identified as the biggest source of manganese deposits in Indonesia, Manggarai District and other districts of NTT Province are likley to be targeted for new investments in mining. Although the water catchment area is protected by Indonesian law, the current mining law has no safeguards to protect the interests of local communities and the indigenous peoples. Therefore, it is important to strengthen safeguards and sustainability standards in the supply chain of renewable energy developments.