Empirical Research

Industrial mining causes major forest loss in the tropics


The growing demand for minerals and the resulting mining activities continue to drive deforestation worldwide. Today, mines worldwide extract more than twice the amount of raw materials mined in 2000. Tropical forests are particularly vulnerable. Until now, the full extent of the impact on tropical ecosystems has been unknown. But researchers from WU Vienna, together with other universities, have now presented the first comprehensive study on the spread of forest loss due to intensified mining.

Four countries responsible for 80% of forest loss

Stefan Giljum, Victor Maus, Nikolas Kuschnig, and Sebastian Luckeneder from the WU Institute for Ecological Economics, together with their colleagues, show where industrial mining caused the greatest deforestation between 2000 and 2019. Overall, mining was directly responsible for the loss of 3,264 km2 of tropical forest. 80% of this deforestation happened in just four countries: Indonesia, Brazil, Ghana, and Suriname. The study shows significant but unevenly distributed and often uncontrolled impacts on these particularly biodiverse ecosystems.

To investigate these impacts, the researchers matched the geographic coordinates of industrial mines in operation from 2000 to 2019 with forest loss records from the Global Forest Change dataset for the same period. The data covered 26 countries that accounted for 76.7 percent of the total tropical deforestation observed between 2000 and 2019.

Indirect deforestation

In addition to direct deforestation, 18 of the 26 countries also had higher deforestation rates within 50 kilometers of mines than could be explained by other factors. This indirect deforestation is due, for example, to the development of new settlements or transportation infrastructure in the vicinity of industrial mines.

As Stefan Giljum points out, “To protect local ecosystems in the tropics, we need accurate impact assessments and mitigation plans for industrial mining. These plans must address both the direct and indirect impacts of industrial mining.”

Further information

Stefan Giljum, Victor Maus, Nikolas Kuschnig, Sebastian Luckeneder, Michael Tost, Laura Sonter, Anthony Bebbington: A pan-tropical assessment of deforestation caused by industrial mining. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2118273119

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