Resource depletion, peak minerals and the implications for sustainable resource management

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Global Environmental Change, 2012, 22 (3), pp. 577 - 587
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Today's global society is economically, socially and culturally dependent on minerals and metals. While metals are recyclable, terrestrial mineral deposits are by definition 'non-renewable' over human timescales and their stocks are thus finite. This raises the spectre of 'peak minerals' - the time at which production from terrestrial ores can no longer rise to meet demand and where a maximum (peak) production occurs. Peak minerals prompts a focus on the way minerals can be sustainably used in the future to ensure the services they provide to global society can be maintained. As peak minerals approaches (and is passed in some cases), understanding and monitoring the dynamics of primary mineral production, recycling and dematerialisation, in the context of national and global discussions about mineral resources demand and the money earned from their sale, will become essential for informing and establishing mechanisms for sustainable mineral governance and use efficiency into the future. Taking a cross-scale approach, this paper explores the economic and productivity impacts of peak minerals, and how changes in the mineral production profile are influenced not only by technological and scarcity factors, but also by environmental and social constraints. Specifically we examine the impacts of peak minerals in Australia, a major global minerals supplier, and the consequences for the Asia-Pacific region, a major destination for Australia's minerals. This research has profound implications for local and regional/global sustainability of mineral and metal use. The focus on services is useful for encouraging discussion of transitions in how such services can be provided in a future more sustainable economy, when mineral availability is constrained. The research also begins to address the question of how we approach the development of strategies to maximise returns from mineral wealth over generations. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd.
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