Mining is responsible for the emission of 4% to 7% of greenhouse gases released globally on the planet. Considering indirect emissions, this number rises to 28%. The world's 16 largest mining companies release around
2.5 billion tonnes of carbon equivalent per year. Mining requires large amounts of fossil fuels across its operation, consumes a
huge amount of electricity, and
produces more tailings than ore
(toxic waste that takes decades to degrade).
In addition, the world's main mineral reserves are located in the Global South. In many cases, they are located within tropical forests and protected areas, such as Indigenous Lands, which are
important carbon stocks, playing a central role in climate regulation. The advance of mineral exploration in these territories, in the unbridled search for ore deposits, will deepen the effects of climate change and move the planet away from the goals set by the Paris Agreement.
Between 2015 and 2020, mining activities deforested 405.36 km² of the Brazilian Amazon, around 40,500 football fields. In 2021, mining devastated 125 km², the highest mark since the beginning of the historical series of the Real-Time Deforestation Detection System (Deter), of the National Institute for Space Research (Inpe). These figures, however, are underestimations, as they refer only to the direct impact of the activity in the places where the forest is cut down for mineral exploration. Studies claim that
large-scale mining operations in the Amazon can cause deforestation up to 12 times greater
than the area officially granted for exploration. With these projections, it is expected that between 2005 and 2015, legal mining alone has already caused the loss of 11,670 km² of the Amazon rainforest,
equivalent to almost eight times the city of São Paulo lost over a span of ten years.
Contamination of rivers and water courses by by-products and tailings is one of the main impacts of mining activities. Mining operations demand large volumes of water, which end up transporting contaminants generated at all stages of production. Overall, this water is discarded in the tailings basin, whose useful life can extend for decades even after extraction is completed. Several communities that live in the vicinity of mining areas denounce this contamination, such as the Xikrin of the Cateté River, affected by
and the Waimiri-Atroari, impacted by the activities of Mineração Taboca.
In the case of gold mining, mercury contamination has already reached alarming levels in Amazonian rivers such as the Tapajós and the Uraricoera, compromising the health of Indigenous and riverine communities.