Global initiatives to address climate change continue to encourage countries to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy to achieve an emission-free economy. However, statistics indicate that the mining sites used to extract renewable energy production materials are a significant threat to the environment. This new perspective adds to existent challenges that nations all over the world face during the implementation of the zero-emission on all sectors of the state economic drivers.
A research study conducted by the University of Queensland indicated that preserved lands, crucial biodiversity areas, and the only wilderness remaining on the planet are at risk of extinction from growing pressure to extract minerals required for a clean energy transition. Dr. Laura Sonter, from the University of Queensland, said that the process of producing renewable energy is more material-intensive than for fossil-fuel. Phasing out the extraction of fossil fuels increases the need to mine more renewable energy materials.
Dr. Sonter said that mining the materials such as lithium, cobalt, copper, nickel, and Aluminium required to produce renewable energy creates pressure on the biodiversity in mineral-rich landscapes. The research team focused on mapping the globe’s mining sites, as detailed in a comprehensive database of 62,381 pre-operational, operational, and terminated mining facilities, targeting 40 different resource materials. The mapping exercise results documented that 82 % of the mining sites for the extraction of targeted renewable energy materials, 12 % are in protected areas, 7 % are within vital biodiversity areas, and 14 % of the sites are in the planet’s last wilderness areas. The extraction sites overlapping protected landscapes and the world’s last wilderness areas are more intensive for renewable energy materials than for any other target material.
From the University of Queensland’s Center for Biodiversity and Conservation Science and the Wildlife Conservation Society, Professor James Watson said that international climate regulations and policies never considered the effects of green energy on biodiversity.
Currently, global climate discussions continue to underestimate the threats from mining materials for renewable energy production. Most state governments and commercial companies only consider the pros of using green energy as an alternative to fossil fuels.
In summary, an in-depth look at the extraction of necessary materials for renewable energy production reveals that going green is not a better option after all. The fact is that mining the materials needed to produce green energy advance affects the natural ecosystem, more severely than fossil fuels. When the risk combines with the extensive spatial network of renewable energy production infrastructure, the environment’s effect becomes more alarming.