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The Environmental sustainability of mining in Australia: key mega-trends and looming constraints

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  • Mudd, Gavin M.

Abstract

At first 'sustainable mining' could be perceived as a paradox--minerals are widely held to be finite resources with rising consumption causing pressure on known resources. The true sustainability of mineral resources, however, is a much more complex picture and involves exploration, technology, economics, social and environmental issues, and advancing scientific knowledge--predicting future sustainability is therefore not a simple task. This paper presents the results from a landmark study on historical trends in Australian mining, including ore milled, ore grades, open cut versus underground mining, overburden/waste rock and economic resources. When complete data sets are compiled for specific metals, particular issues stand out with respect to sustainability--technological breakthroughs (e.g. flotation, carbon-in-pulp), new discoveries (e.g. uranium or U), price changes (e.g. Au, boom/bust cycles), social issues (e.g. strikes), etc. All of these issues are of prime importance in moving towards a semi-quantitative sustainability model of mineral resources and the mining industry. For the future, critical issues will continue to be declining ore grades (also ore quality and impurities), increased waste rock and associated liabilities, known economic resources, potential breakthrough technologies, and broader environmental constraints (e.g. carbon costs, water). For this latter area, many companies now report annually on sustainability performance--facilitating analysis of environmental sustainability with respect to production performance. By linking these two commonly disparate aspects--mining production and environmental/sustainability data--it becomes possible to better understand environmental sustainability and predict future constraints such as water requirements, greenhouse emissions, energy and reagent inputs, and the like. This paper will therefore present a range of fundamental data and issues which help towards quantifying the resource and environmental sustainability of mining--with critical implications for the mining industry and society as a whole.

Suggested Citation

  • Mudd, Gavin M., 2010. "The Environmental sustainability of mining in Australia: key mega-trends and looming constraints," Resources Policy, Elsevier, vol. 35(2), pages 98-115, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jrpoli:v:35:y:2010:i:2:p:98-115
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Garcia, Patricio & Knights, Peter F. & Tilton, John E., 2001. "Labor productivity and comparative advantage in mining:: the copper industry in Chile," Resources Policy, Elsevier, vol. 27(2), pages 97-105, June.
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    2. Vintró, Carla & Fortuny, Jordi & Sanmiquel, Lluís & Freijo, Modesto & Edo, Joaquín, 2012. "Is corporate social responsibility possible in the mining sector? Evidence from Catalan companies," Resources Policy, Elsevier, vol. 37(1), pages 118-125.
    3. Mardi Dungey & Renee Fry-McKibbin & Verity Linehan, 2014. "Chinese resource demand and the natural resource supplier," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 46(2), pages 167-178, January.
    4. Fizaine, Florian & Court, Victor, 2015. "Renewable electricity producing technologies and metal depletion: A sensitivity analysis using the EROI," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 110(C), pages 106-118.
    5. Reeson, Andrew & Measham, Thomas G. & Hosking, Karin, 2012. "Mining activity, income inequality and gender in regional Australia," Australian Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics, Australian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society, vol. 56(2), June.
    6. Arvesen, Anders & Hertwich, Edgar G., 2012. "Assessing the life cycle environmental impacts of wind power: A review of present knowledge and research needs," Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Elsevier, vol. 16(8), pages 5994-6006.
    7. Schaffartzik, Anke & Mayer, Andreas & Eisenmenger, Nina & Krausmann, Fridolin, 2016. "Global patterns of metal extractivism, 1950–2010: Providing the bones for the industrial society's skeleton," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 122(C), pages 101-110.
    8. Ololade, Olusola O. & Annegarn, Harold J., 2013. "Contrasting community and corporate perceptions of sustainability: A case study within the platinum mining region of South Africa," Resources Policy, Elsevier, vol. 38(4), pages 568-576.
    9. repec:wsi:jeapmx:v:19:y:2017:i:03:n:s1464333217500120 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. repec:spr:bioerq:v:3:y:2018:i:2:d:10.1007_s41247-018-0038-3 is not listed on IDEAS
    11. Filippou, Dimitrios & King, Michael G., 2011. "R&D prospects in the mining and metals industry," Resources Policy, Elsevier, vol. 36(3), pages 276-284, September.
    12. Fizaine, Florian, 2013. "Byproduct production of minor metals: Threat or opportunity for the development of clean technologies? The PV sector as an illustration," Resources Policy, Elsevier, vol. 38(3), pages 373-383.
    13. Moran, C.J. & Franks, D.M. & Sonter, L.J., 2013. "Using the multiple capitals framework to connect indicators of regional cumulative impacts of mining and pastoralism in the Murray Darling Basin, Australia," Resources Policy, Elsevier, vol. 38(4), pages 733-744.
    14. Shen, Lixin & Muduli, Kamalakanta & Barve, Akhilesh, 2015. "Developing a sustainable development framework in the context of mining industries: AHP approach," Resources Policy, Elsevier, vol. 46(P1), pages 15-26.
    15. Victor Court & Florian Fizaine, 2014. "Energy transition towards renewables and metal depletion: an approach through the EROI concept," Post-Print hal-01411803, HAL.
    16. repec:eee:jrpoli:v:52:y:2017:i:c:p:405-417 is not listed on IDEAS
    17. Antonio Valero & Alicia Valero, 2015. "Thermodynamic Rarity and the Loss of Mineral Wealth," Energies, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 8(2), pages 1-16, January.
    18. Ben White & Graeme J. Doole & David J. Pannell & Veronique Florec, 2012. "Optimal environmental policy design for mine rehabilitation and pollution with a risk of non‐compliance owing to firm insolvency," Australian Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics, Australian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society, vol. 56(2), pages 280-301, April.
    19. Kleijn, René & van der Voet, Ester & Kramer, Gert Jan & van Oers, Lauran & van der Giesen, Coen, 2011. "Metal requirements of low-carbon power generation," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 36(9), pages 5640-5648.
    20. Fuisz-Kehrbach, Sonja-Katrin, 2015. "A three-dimensional framework to explore corporate sustainability activities in the mining industry: Current status and challenges ahead," Resources Policy, Elsevier, vol. 46(P1), pages 101-115.
    21. repec:gam:jsusta:v:10:y:2018:i:1:p:235-:d:127378 is not listed on IDEAS
    22. Franks, Daniel M. & Boger, David V. & Côte, Claire M. & Mulligan, David R., 2011. "Sustainable development principles for the disposal of mining and mineral processing wastes," Resources Policy, Elsevier, vol. 36(2), pages 114-122, June.
    23. Lutter, Stephan & Giljum, Stefan & Bruckner, Martin, 2016. "A review and comparative assessment of existing approaches to calculate material footprints," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 127(C), pages 1-10.
    24. Grandell, Leena & Lehtilä, Antti & Kivinen, Mari & Koljonen, Tiina & Kihlman, Susanna & Lauri, Laura S., 2016. "Role of critical metals in the future markets of clean energy technologies," Renewable Energy, Elsevier, vol. 95(C), pages 53-62.

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