Metal Mining and Planetary Boundaries: The status of sustainability considerations, the impact of “externalities” and an outlook

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


The Great Acceleration of economic growth after World War II caused tremendous population and GDP growth, as well as growth in other socio-economic indicators, at the expense of earth system/ environmental indicators. Scientists now argue that some of these indicators are key for keeping conditions on Earth stable and that they need to stay within certain limits. They continue that humankind is, and in some cases already has been, trespassing these Planetary Boundaries. With The Great Acceleration, the demand for mineral resources has also grown exponentially. Mines have increased in number and have become larger, causing significant negative social and environmental consequences. This dissertation looks into key environmental aspects – climate change, land and water use - of the role some key metals - bauxite/aluminium, copper, gold and iron ore - play in this context. It does so by taking an Ecological Economics / Planetary Boundaries / strong sustainability approach. Through a series of five scientific papers it explores how these concepts are considered in the mining industry, how metal mining contributes to global environmental pressures, what the impact of monetary valuation would be on the industry and provides an outlook on how far innovations can improve metal mining's performance. The author finds that mining’s and society’s view on sustainability is still mainly one of weak sustainability, that the environmental pressures from metal mining matter on a global scale, that the impact of monetary valuation would be significant for CO2 emissions and that the innovations analysed do not offer a one-size-fits-all solution to resolve mining’s sustainability challenges.
Translated title of the contributionMetallbergbau und planetare Grenzen: Der Status von Nachhaltigkeitsbestrebungen, der Einfluss von "Externalitäten" und ein Ausblick
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Montanuniversität
  • Hitch, Michael, Assessor B (external), External person
  • Moser, Peter, Assessor A (internal)
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

embargoed until null


  • Metal mining
  • gold
  • bauxite
  • Iron ore
  • copper
  • aluminium
  • Planetary Boundaries
  • sustainability
  • externalities
  • ecological economics
  • CO2 pricing
  • ecosystem services
  • valuation
  • innovation
  • water use
  • land use
  • CO2 emissions
  • SDGs

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