Raw material imports: Germany destroys the most forests in the EU through mining

Science commodity imports

Germany destroys the most forests through mining in the EU

ARCHIVE - November 4th, 2010, Suriname, Antonino: In this gold mine near Antonino in the southeast of Suriname, Brazilians are digging for gold as contract workers.  Due to the import of raw materials such as coal or gold, Germany is the largest driver of mining-related forest destruction within the European Union alongside Great Britain.  (to dpa

Most of the forest is being destroyed by mining for coal and gold, as at this mine in Suriname, northeastern South America

Source: Denise Müller/dpa

When coal, ores or gold are mined, nature also suffers. Often forest is destroyed. Germany also makes a decisive contribution to this indirectly. However, there is a way out, experts say.

DDue to the import of raw materials, Germany is the largest driver of mining-related forest destruction within the European Union. This is the result of a study by the WWF environmental foundation and the Vienna University of Economics and Business. The team led by Tobias Kind-Rieper from the WWF investigated how much forest was destroyed worldwide from 2000 to 2020 due to the mining of coal, metal ores and industrial minerals.

Due to the corresponding raw material imports, Germany and Great Britain were the biggest drivers of mining-related forest destruction at EU level, each with a share of around 19 percent. For Germany, this corresponds to an area of ​​265 square kilometers of forest. In Germany, the imported raw materials are used, among other things, in the automotive industry (17 percent) or mechanical and plant engineering (11 percent).

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“Our hunger for raw materials is destroying forests elsewhere, poisoning the groundwater and robbing people and animals of their livelihoods,” says Kind-Rieper. Rainforests are often destroyed.

More than 80 percent of the direct mining-related deforestation took place in ten countries alone during the study period. Most of the forest was cut down in Indonesia (around 3500 square kilometers), Brazil (around 1700 square kilometers) and Russia (around 1300 square kilometers).

The polluters are China (18 percent), the EU (14 percent) and the USA (12 percent). A large part (71 percent) of the destroyed forest area is due to the mining of coal and gold. For the calculations, the research team examined international trade flows and evaluated satellite images.

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For the study, not only the direct, but in some cases also the indirect forest destruction within a radius of 50 kilometers was calculated. These include, for example, transport routes related to mining. According to the calculations, from 2000 to 2020, a total of around 755,900 square kilometers of forest was cut down around raw material mines worldwide. This corresponds to an area that is more than twice the size of Germany. However, according to the study, the data on indirect deforestation should be treated with caution. It cannot always be clearly clarified whether the felling of trees in the vicinity of the mine is directly attributable to the operation.

How can environmental damage be reduced? According to geoecologist Gudrun Franken from the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources, environmentally friendly mining is definitely possible. “If high environmental standards are set and these are monitored accordingly,” says Franken. An environmental impact assessment is mandatory in mining countries worldwide. Demanding good practice also requires a great deal of knowledge on the part of the authorities and the enforcement of the relevant requirements. According to Franken, in order to keep environmental damage as low as possible, it is also important that areas are renatured and habitats restored.

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