This Brief is an excerpt from an open access article published in Global Environmental Change.
The demand for natural resources grew significantly over the past 20 years. Mining for metals and minerals has become indispensable to the model of economic growth currently pursued in industrialised societies. Increasing digitalisation and use of renewable energy technologies require huge amounts of metal ores . At the same time, developing countries build up infrastructure in the energy, housing and transport sectors . Local mining expansion and intensified production, as well as related impacts in the immediate surroundings of the sites of extraction are closely coupled to these global economic trends. By studying the local implications of the global surge in mining in a spatially explicit manner, we can better understand the current and future environmental risks related to the expanding mining sector.
In our study, we performed an assessment of how metal mining volumes are distributed across almost 3,000 mining projects worldwide, covering nine metal ores (bauxite, copper, gold, iron, lead, manganese, nickel, silver and zinc) in the period 2000–2019. Data on metal production were taken from the SNL Metals and Mining database . To proxy ecosystem vulnerability, we used three spatial layers (protected areas, terrestrial biome categorisations, and water scarcity) and connected these layers with spatio-temporal patterns of extraction at the mine level.
Implications for mining companies and policies
Accelerated global extraction of metals and minerals particularly threatens vulnerable ecosystems. To reduce associated risk in the short and medium term, the impacts of mining itself need to decrease. The mining industry has already developed and implemented improvements in environmental management processes and impact mitigation systems, such as progressive rehabilitation throughout the life cycle of a mine. However, higher environmental standards must be realised at the mine sites beyond corporate level commitments, as e.g. demanded by the International Council on Mining and Metals .
Rethinking mining governance in the extraction countries should avoid unnecessary large-scale infrastructure and avert opening up untouched spaces to settlement. Further, it is important to consider cumulative impacts across space (such as watershed regions) and over time and involve affected populations in decision making processes . In addition, the ‘tele-connections’ between production in one part of the world and consumption in another need to be addressed from a global resource governance perspective that aims at reducing the huge and persistent inequalities in resource consumption.
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