US, China to join UN-led group on minerals and human rights

By Hannah Northey, Sara Schonhardt | 04/26/2024 01:27 PM EDT

The relationship between the United States and China has been particularly contentious around the critical minerals needed for the energy transition.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres addresses the U.N. Security Council at U.N. headquarters on April 14. Yuki Iwamura/AP

The United Nations is bringing together unlikely global rivals — China and the United States — as part of a multinational initiative to ensure mineral-rich developing countries benefit from the rush for materials needed to build electric vehicles and renewable technologies tethered to international climate goals.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres on Friday announced 23 countries will take part in crafting voluntary principles to protect human rights, enforce sustainability and boost transparency as richer, mineral-hungry nations move to tap into less-developed nations awash with lithium, graphite, nickel and copper.

China and the U.S. have come together to cooperate on climate in the past, signing a joint declaration ahead of COP28 climate talks last year aimed at addressing emissions of methane and greatly scaling up investments in renewable energy. They also co-chair a working group on sustainable finance.


But the U.S.-China relationship is more contentious when it comes to mineral resources, with the U.S. working to counter some of China’s dominance over global mineral supply chains — an effort that’s been supercharged under the Inflation Reduction Act.