The climate change impacts of mining are often not fully accounted for, although the environmental impact of mineral extraction more generally is widely studied. Copper mining can serve as a case study to analyse the measurable pathways by which mining contributes to climate change through direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions. For example, mining, processing and transportation require fuel and electricity, and the decomposition of carbonate minerals, employed to reduce environmental impacts, also releases carbon dioxide. Overall, we estimate that greenhouse gas emissions associated with primary mineral and metal production was equivalent to approximately 10% of the total global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions in 2018. For copper mining, fuel consumption increased by 130% and electricity consumption increased by 32% per unit of mined copper in Chile from 2001 to 2017, largely due to decreasing ore grade. This trend of increasing energy demand to produce the same quantity of some metals compounds the problems of increased metal demand due to the pressures of new technologies and increasing population. For green technologies to be implemented effectively, it is necessary that the mining industry and regulators accurately and transparently account for greenhouse gas emissions to implement mitigation strategies.
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The authors declare that the data supporting the findings of this study are available within the article and its supplementary information files.
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We acknowledge the financial support secured by J.-W. Ahn through her grant on the National Strategic Project-Carbon Upcycling of the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) funded by the Ministry of Science and ICT (MSIT), the Ministry of Environment (ME) and the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (MOTIE) (2017M3D8A2084752), and the Sustainable Minerals Institute, University of Queensland for funding for this study. We also thank P. Nuss for providing the data used to recalculate the contribution of life-cycle stages to global warming potential that is shown in the Supplementary Information.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Peer review information Primary Handling Editor: Rebecca Neely
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Extended Data Fig. 1. Estimated greenhouse gas emissions of primary mined material production in 2018.
Estimated greenhouse gas emissions of primary mined material production in 2018. Excludes energy carriers (coal, uranium) and mineral aggregates. Estimated based upon data from Nuss and Eckelman (2014)58 and 2018 production data derived from U.S. Geological Survey (2019)59 and the British Geological Survey60. 95% confidence intervals are shown. See notes in electronic supplementary Table S1 for derivation of the “Total” confidence interval.
Extended Data Fig. 4. Scope 1 (direct, on-site) and scope 2 (indirect, electricity generation) greenhouse gas emissions associated with copper mines.
Scope 1 (direct, on-site) and scope 2 (indirect, electricity generation) greenhouse gas emissions associated with copper mines. Error bars show the minimum and maximum annual greenhouse gas emissions from each mine. Data updated from Northey et al. (2013)3 to increase industry coverage. Economic allocation updated to account for copper concentrate and anode treatment costs (TC) and refining costs (RC).
Estimated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with the 2018 production of primary materials derived from mining, excluding energy carriers (coal and uranium) and mineral aggregates.
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Azadi, M., Northey, S.A., Ali, S.H. et al. Transparency on greenhouse gas emissions from mining to enable climate change mitigation. Nat. Geosci. 13, 100–104 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-020-0531-3
Nature Reviews Materials (2021)
Climatic Change (2021)
Nature Geoscience (2020)
Nature Communications (2020)