Renewable energy production will exacerbate mining threats to biodiversity

Sonter, L.J., Dade, M.C., Watson, J.E.M. et al (2020) Renewable energy production will exacerbate mining threats to biodiversity. Nat Commun 11, 4174

Climate change poses serious threats to biodiversity. To keep temperature increases below 2 °C, and halt associated biodiversity losses, 140 nations committed to the Paris Climate Change Accord to reduce anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions by 90% (from 2010 levels) and reach carbon neutrality by 2100.

Energy sector innovation is where most progress is achievable, but since renewable energies currently account for only 17% of global energy consumption, significant production increases must occur to phase out fossil fuel use. However, the production of renewable energies is also material-intensive—much more so than fossil fuels—meaning that future production will also escalate demand for many metals.

This paper maps mining areas and assesses their spatial coincidence with biodiversity conservation sites and priorities. Mining potentially impacts 50 million km2 of Earth’s land surface, with 8% coinciding with Protected Areas, 7% with Key Biodiversity Areas, and 16% with Remaining Wilderness. 82% of mining targets materials needed for renewable energy production, and areas that overlap with Protected Areas and Remaining Wilderness contain a greater density of mines (our indicator of threat severity) compared to the overlapping mining areas that target other materials.

Mining threats to biodiversity will increase as more mines target materials for renewable energy production and, without strategic planning, these new threats to biodiversity may surpass those averted by climate change mitigation.

The full article can be found here.