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Low-carbon future may lead to more mining in high-risk areas – study

Artisanal mining in the DRC. (Image by Julien Harneis, Flickr).

Researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia mapped the countries and regions within them that will likely become mining hotspots as the world moves towards a low carbon future.

In a paper published in the journal Nature Communications, the researchers said this exercise led them to conclude that such a transition is expected to lead to more mining in high-risk areas. In these places, competition over resources such as water and land may negatively impact surrounding communities.

Past research has raised concerns about the environmental, social and governance pressures that come from increased mining but they have never assessed the risks on a global scale using quantitative data,” Éléonore Lèbre, lead author of the study, said in a media statement.

“By applying seven categories of risk – three environmental, three social and one governance indicator – we were able to map where these mining hotspots would exist and the metals involved.”

Graph courtesy of the University of Queensland.

After looking at over 6,800 mining projects of 20 different metals around the world, Lèbre and her colleagues realized that certain commodities such as platinum and cobalt exhibit particularly risky profiles, but other metals do as well.

“Major metals like iron and copper are rarely talked about in the energy transition discussion, but they will be needed in large quantities, and are set to disturb big chunks of land as production volumes increase,” the scientist said.

“Australia, the United States and China will be the most affected, having the largest clusters of mines located in potential high-risk contexts.”

According to Lèbre, good governance in these countries will be key to ensure the energy transition happens without unleashing negative social and environmental impacts induced by mining.