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Environment: Mining for renewable energy could exacerbate threats to biodiversity

Nature Communications

September 2, 2020

Threats to biodiversity could increase in the future as more mines target materials used for renewable energy production, suggests a study in Nature Communications.

Renewable energy production is necessary to mitigate climate change. However, only 17% of current global energy consumption is achieved through renewable energies. Generating the required technologies and infrastructure will lead to an increase in the production of many metals, which may create potential threats for biodiversity.

Laura Sonter and colleagues mapped mining areas globally and assessed their coincidence with biodiversity conservation sites. The authors found that mining potentially influences approximately 50 million km2 of the Earth’s land surface with 82% of mining areas targeting materials used in renewable energy production. When looking at the spatial overlap between mining areas and conservation sites, they found that 8% of mining areas coincided with nationally-designated Protected Areas, 7% with Key Biodiversity Areas and 16% with Remaining Wilderness (sites considered important priorities for halting diversity loss).

The authors discovered that a greater proportion of pre-operational mines are targeting materials needed for renewable energy production (nearly 84%) compared to around 73% of operational mines. They also observed that pre-operational mines targeting renewable materials also appear to be more densely packed together than those targeting other materials.

Increasing the extent and density of mining areas will cause additional threats to biodiversity suggest the authors, and they argue that without strategic planning these new threats to biodiversity may surpass those averted by climate change mitigation.

doi: 10.1038/s41467-020-17928-5

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