Around 50% of global metal ore mining has been found take place less than 20km from protected territories, with 123 active mining sites found within these protected areas, new research from Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU Vienna) has found.
The study, undertaken by Sebastian Luckeneder, Stefan Giljum and Victor Maus, all from WU Vienna’s Institute for Ecological Economics, also found that 79% of worldwide metal mining in 2019 took place in five of the six most species-rich biomes – in other words, five of the six most biodiverse areas on the planet.
In undertaking the research, Luckeneder, Giljum and Maus used data from around 3000 mining sites active worldwide between 2000 and 2019 to analyse both the geographical distribution and rate of activity.
The study revealed that the rapidly expanding mining sector continues to exert pressure on ecosystems recognised as vulnerable, and that there is a significantly skewed distribution in terms of extraction volumes. For example, the researchers found that, since 2000, mining volumes in tropical forest environments have doubled.
Alarmingly, the study revealed that 90% of all considered mining sites were locations reported to have below-average water availability, with extensive copper and gold mining taking place in regions with particularly scarce water resources.
It’s with these findings in mind that the researchers insist this study has significant implications for policymakers and business globally. Demand for metal ores will further increase in the future, for example, to provide the raw materials for the renewable energy transition. The study’s results call for industries to invest further into environmental management processes and impact mitigation systems. Governments also need to critically review and reform national environmental regulations, in order to minimise global environmental impacts of the growing demand for the planet’s natural resources.
Sebastian Luckeneder, Research and Teaching Associate at Vienna University of Economics and Business, says:
“Our results underline that reoccurring local ecological distribution conflicts across the globe are not to be solved at the case level. They are consequences of an expansion systematically affecting species-rich, water-scarce, complex, fragile and hence vulnerable ecosystems. The systemic character behind such conflicts needs to be addressed from an international perspective, acknowledging pertinent patterns of ecologically unequal exchange between the Global North and South.”
Stefan Giljum, Associate Professor at Vienna University of Economics and Business, says:
“To reduce associated risk in the short and medium term, the impacts of mining itself need to decrease. Such a transition concerns mining companies, but also includes critically reviewing and reforming national environmental regulations. Concrete opportunities for action include rethinking mining governance such that it avoids unnecessary large-scale infrastructure, averts opening up untouched spaces to settlement, considers cumulative impacts across space and over time and involves most affected populations in the decision making.”
Victor Maus, from the Institute of Ecological Economics at Vienna University of Economics and Business, says:
“The use of geospatial data to evaluate mining projects’ propensities to exert pressures such as biodiversity loss, deforestation, water and air pollution as well as social conflicts at the local scale is of key importance for global assessments of mining impacts and industry monitoring.”