towards a more equitable use of mineral resources | springerlink
Minerals and the metals derived therefrom are non-renewable resources that deliver a wide range of goods and services to mankind. While their value has been recognized since thousands of years, their large-scale industrial production only really took off after World War II, thanks to the availability of efficient industrial production processes and of a rapidly rising demand, driven by demographic growth, urbanization and growing economic affluence in developed countries. The fast development of the Chinese economy, with about 300 million people reaching middle-class status and migrating to cities, drove a boom demand for minerals and metals of unprecedented magnitude in terms of tonnages consumed, that lasted from 2002 to 2013. Over a century, from 1914 to 2013, the production and consumption of pig iron, manganese and copper grew by a factor of 20, that of chromium by a factor of 182 and that of phosphate by a factor of nearly 42, while humanity grew only by a factor of about 4. Driven by demographic growth, continuing urbanization and growth of the global middle class the demand for minerals and metals will continue to exponentially grow. A scenario is proposed assessing what the theoretical requirements could be up to 2050 for minerals and metals commonly used in the construction industry, to develop infrastructure, for the mass production of metal intensive goods such as cars or in agriculture, to provide our food. The scenario, built on the trends observed since 1950, foresees that, by 2050, the demand for aluminium demand could be eight times the current production levels and the production of cement would need to grow by a factor of 7 to meet the 2050 level of demand. The lead demand would double by 2050. While geological scarcity does not appear to be an issue to feed such a demand, many factors are likely to limit the amount of minerals and metals that can be sustainably produced. Energy and water, both essential to mining, ore processing and metallurgy are likely to be limiting factors, as well as the sustainable management of the enormous amount of waste that would be generated. Public acceptance and access to exploration and mine development financing are other limiting factors to be considered. Inter-generational equity among all the stakeholders is concerned by mining, and intra-generational equity is necessary to ensure that the use of non-renewable natural capital provides benefits that last well beyond the closure of mining operations. This requires equity among stakeholders, including with nature, the silent stakeholder our lives depend on. Overcoming the challenges of the twenty-first century will require the following factors:
Rapid development of a more circular economy based on resource efficiency and the systematic minimization of waste. Flanking policy measures (for instance: European Commission 2016) are needed to close the natural resources loop and avoid the dire predicaments of resources depletion;
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This paper has been written based on the keynote speech I was invited to give on occasion of the 35th International Geological Congress (Cape Town, South Africa) by Pr. Thomas E. Graedel, Yale University (USA) and Member of the United Nations International Resource Panel. My participation, ending about a 40years career with the Survey, was made possible thanks to the generous support of my past employer, BRGM, the French Geological Survey. Finally, I want to express special thanks to the anonymous reviewers who devoted their time to provide useful comments and improve the quality of this contribution.