Population increase, doubling of infrastructure development, transition towards low carbon economies, and growing use of smart mobile devices is leading to an unprecedented demand for metals and minerals. Demand for copper, iron, lead, molybdenum, nickel and zinc required to produce wind turbines, solar panels and improved energy is likely to increase by 300% through 2050. To meet such demands both large-scale and artisanal and small-scale mining are increasingly moving into remote and often forested areas to find new mineral deposits and higher-grade ores, becoming a driver, directly and indirectly, of deforestation and biodiversity loss.
Forests are essential for life on earth. They provide the oxygen we need to survive, are home to 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity, protect watersheds that supply 75% of freshwater, provide livelihoods for 25% of the global population, and offer one third of the cost-effective natural climate mitigation solutions needed to hold global warming below 2°C. Forest-smart mining can support development outcomes such as improved food security, water security, green growth, and climate change mitigation and adaptation. World Bank defines “forest-smart” as “a development approach that recognizes forests’ significance for sustaining growth across many sectors, including agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and water”.
The Sustainable Development Goals represent our world’s vision for people, planet and prosperity. One of the SDG’s guiding precepts is that they are indivisible and integrated, meaning we cannot achieve one without the other. In the case of mining and forests, there are significant potential negative impacts and trade-offs between goals focused on economic development, on the one hand, and environmental sustainability goals, on the other. This means we must find pathways forward to advance forest-smart mining.
Mining accounts for approximately 7% of forest loss globally. While mines themselves may have a relatively small impact on forests, mining is linked to a long list of other activities that can cause widespread deforestation. Construction of transport infrastructure may open remote forests to other activities such as logging, hunting and agriculture and to the development of settlements near mine sites, all of which accelerate forest clearing and biodiversity loss.
Analysis by the World Bank and Fauna and Flora International found that there are over 1500 large-scale mines operating in forests today- with a further 1800+ in development or currently non-operational- and that one third of the world’s forests are located within 50 kilometers of operational large-scale mines. Useful forest-smart practices are being adopted by individual companies and governments, however, greater action is needed to scale-up and accelerate forest-smart mining policies, practices and partnerships to advance the 2030 Agenda and the New York Declaration on Forests’ (NYDF) overarching goal of halving deforestation by 2020 and ending it by 2030.
Scaling-up and accelerating action to advance forest-smart approaches to mining was the focus of a side-event and working session organized by the Global Platform for the NYDF, United Nations Development Programme, World Bank, Swedish Environmental Protection Agency and partners at the UN General Assembly in September. The topic was also discussed at the 14th Annual General Meeting of the Intergovernmental Forum on Mining, Minerals, Metals and Sustainable Development in October. For the last three weeks parties and other stakeholders met in Egypt for the 14th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity to discuss, among other topics, how to mainstream biodiversity into the energy, mining and infrastructure sectors.
As we survey the landscape of mining and forests, first, we must acknowledge the complexity of the challenge: reducing mining-related deforestation is not something governments or companies alone can handle; it will require landscape-wide approaches which calls for partnerships between government, companies and communities. Second, governments must exert strong leadership and political will for effective planning, enforcement of regulations and facilitation of multi-stakeholder cooperation. Third, mining companies must be driven not only by regulations, but by broader issues such as gaining a social license to operate, accessing finance or responding to growing consumer demands for transparent and responsible mining. Navigating a pathway toward forest-smart mining is not easy. Yet, it is essential and must be pursued rapidly and jointly if we are to ensure that further pressures to increase resource extraction do not threaten the well-being of our forests and our planet.
 For OECD countries, investment requirements in electricity transmission and distribution are expected to more than double through to 2025/30, in road construction almost to double, and to increase by almost 50% in the water supply and treatment sector.
About the Author
Eva Gurria is a Policy Advisor with the Global Programme on Nature for Development at UNDP.
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