Global Business and Trade

In Search for the Missing Mining Impacts: A Call for Transparency and Open Data


The effects of mining on humans and the environment are poorly documented. In a commentary in the journal Nature, WU researcher Victor Maus has called for thee data gaps to be closed. This is a prerequisite for implementing the green energy transition in a way that minimizes environmental damage.

Whether fossil fuels for business-as-usual, lithium for batteries, cobalt for smartphones or neodymium for wind turbines, all future pathways require expanding mineral extraction, which comes at a cost. A recent commentary by Victor Maus from the WU Institute for Ecological Economics and Tim Werner from the University of Melbourne, published in Nature, raises concerns about the extensive, yet largely unmeasured, environmental and societal consequences of mining activities worldwide.

Maus highlights that in recent decades, we've seen a dramatic rise in global demand for mineral resources, a pattern set to continue into the future as demand for raw materials surges, driven by expanding urban areas and transportation systems, increasing consumption of products like vehicles and electronics and shift towards renewable energy systems. Yet, mining brings severe environmental and societal impacts: it changes land use, causes deforestation, leads to biodiversity loss, pollutes air, water, and soil, poses health hazards and leads to displacement of communities and loss of land and livelihoods. A surprising revelation in the commentary indicates that half of the world's mining impacts remain undocumented, leaving a gaping hole in our understanding of the sector's global footprint.

"Independent research is essential to decipher the extent of its risks and impacts and build public trust. However, this is impossible because of the lack of a comprehensive inventory of the world's mines and the absence of robust data on various aspects of mining operations, for example, waste generation and pollution", Maus continues. The reasons for such a data scarcity range from limited corporate reporting to disused, informal or illegal sites.

Maus and Werner propose four key steps to address this challenge. This includes acknowledging and addressing the underestimation of mining impacts and risks worldwide, improving data gathering and sharing practices among scientists, enhancing corporate transparency in the mining sector, and utilizing advanced techniques like remote sensing and artificial intelligence to fill data gaps.

The urgency of this issue cannot be overstated. With the global appetite for minerals expected to rise sharply in the coming decades, especially for clean energy technologies, comprehensive and transparent data on mining impacts is critical. As the authors put it, "We can't manage what we can't measure." Their call to action is a wake-up call for researchers, policymakers, and industry leaders to join forces in shedding light on the known unknowns of the mining sector and mitigating its impacts.

Victor Maus, Tim T. Werner: Impacts for half of the world’s mining areas are undocumented. Nature 625, 26-29 (2024). 

Back to overview