Delivering on climate goals will require a rapid halt to deforestation, and reforestation and afforestation at scale. But it will also require a secure and sustainable supply of minerals and materials for green technologies and sustainable infrastructure. Many of these commodities are found in critical forest landscapes, placing forests at increased risk as demand for minerals increases. This paper explores the mining sector’s impacts on forests, and the potential for ‘forest-smart’ mining policies and practices to support deforestation-free mineral supply chains.
- Delivering the long-term aims of the Paris Agreement will require a rapid halt to deforestation, and reforestation and afforestation at scale. It will also require a secure and sustainable supply of minerals and materials for green technologies and sustainable infrastructure. While mining is not always a primary direct driver of deforestation and forest degradation, its indirect and cumulative forest impacts can be significant. Up to one-third of the world’s forests may already be affected by mining, with regions such as the Amazon, the Congo Basin and Southeast Asia at particular risk. Given the anticipated demand for minerals such as iron ore, copper, gold, nickel, cobalt and bauxite – which are often found in critical forest landscapes – it is important that the mining sector’s forest impacts are better understood and addressed.
- There is growing scrutiny of the mining sector’s climate impacts, but the links between forest impacts at project level and climate commitments at corporate level remain underexplored. The monitoring and reporting of mining’s direct and indirect roles in land-use change, including forest loss and degradation, could support a more comprehensive assessment of the sector’s contribution to climate change and biodiversity loss. This should include greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with deforestation and forest degradation, and the net impact on forest carbon stocks. More transparent, integrated approaches to assessing and reporting the sector’s forest impacts – both in terms of climate change and biodiversity – could encourage the development of ‘forest-smart’ mining policies and practices which avoid deforestation and, where appropriate, support the reforestation or afforestation of mined land.
- With growing pressure for mining companies to commit to net-zero emissions, there is rising interest in forest carbon offsets. Investing in forests is one of the most cost-effective tools in climate mitigation, and the development of forest finance mechanisms that increase private sector investment may help protect forests and reduce emissions, as well as delivering co-benefits for biodiversity and sustainable development. In some cases, it may be appropriate to use forest carbon markets to help address mining’s impacts, particularly in producer countries and regions, where offsets can be aligned with forest impacts. However, there remains considerable variation in how companies report the use of offsets, and in the level of detail available on the underlying forest assets. Greater transparency and common standards are crucial if forest carbon offsets are to help provide a bridge to more ambitious climate commitments, rather than a ‘get-out clause’.
- Raising the profile of forest-risk mineral commodities could help build consumer demand for low-impact, low-carbon metals. In order for consumers and investors to consider the full costs of mineral production and supply chains in their decision-making, GHG emissions associated with forest loss and degradation should be incorporated into supply chain standards and market mechanisms, alongside impacts on biodiversity, land and water. Further research into ‘forest-risk mineral supply chains’ and efforts to raise the profile of them may encourage better monitoring and reporting of the mining sector’s forest impacts, and support policy engagement with producer countries and companies, incentivizing forest-smart approaches to mining and the development of deforestation-free mineral supply chains.
- Countries with a high dependency on mining and a high vulnerability to forest impacts – such as Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ecuador, Guinea, Indonesia and Zambia – could benefit from national roadmaps for more sustainable, forest-smart mining. Governance of the mining sector should be strengthened to account for forest risks, and encourage forest protection and restoration, particularly at the licensing and decommissioning stages. The development of the mining sector should also be assessed in light of national sustainable development plans and Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement, including reforestation and afforestation commitments. Such assessments could support integrated planning and identify entry points for finance, including REDD+. They should be supported by robust analysis and multi-stakeholder dialogue and should consider, on a case-by-case basis, whether mining in forests can be justified at all.