Climate emergency drives rush for Pacific resources – but at what cost?

8 August 2022

Global demand for energy transition metals to support a clean energy transition is increasing pressure to extract more terrestrial and seabed minerals and metals from the Pacific.

So what is the risk of the Pacific becoming a sacrifice zone in the name of a global energy transition?

Sustainable Minerals Institute (The University of Queensland) co-authors recently published a report exploring these issues – The Justice Dimensions of Extracting Energy Transition Metals from the Pacific.

Associate Professor Nick Bainton (Principal Research Fellow at the Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining, SMI) collaborated for this research with Dr Emilka Skrzypek (Senior Policy Fellow at the University of St Andrews and SMI Honorary Research Fellow), UQ’s Dr John Burton and Dr Eleonore Lebre, and the Centre for Energy Ethics at the University of St Andrews.

“The elephant in the room is the fact that nobody's talking about the potential for a ramp up of extractive pressures in the Pacific,” Dr Bainton says.

“We are trying to draw attention to the need to focus on the justice impacts of extracting in the Pacific, particularly given the vulnerabilities that exist there.”

Mining projects in the Pacific are generally in places with high environmental, social and governance risks. The vulnerabilities already present there will likely exacerbate justice issues associated with increased pressure to extract resources for the transition to clean energy.

“We are already seeing new projects justified in the name of global action on climate change,” Dr Bainton says.

The report highlights the critical need to consider the impacts of transitioning into renewable energy systems alongside current emphasis on the impacts of moving away from fossil fuels.

“We tend to use words such as ‘green’ and ‘clean’ to describe renewable technologies – contrasting them with the ‘dirty’ carbon-based energy systems we are trying to move away from. So how do we reconcile this with the reality and scale of the mining activity required to construct those technologies?” asks co-author Dr Skrzypek.

“The blunt reality is that the solutions to climate change require more resource extraction, which creates its own impacts and will compound the effects of climate change in the region.

“Our research has clearly shown that single-axis policies and preventative actions will be insufficient to the task of addressing the interlinked justice issues associated with global energy transitions,” says Dr Skrzypek.

This is currently a policy blind spot that can jeopardise the very principles of a fair and just energy transition.

The future legacies of increased extraction in the Pacific are a major policy and legislative blind spot for the Australian government – addressing these is fundamental to a just transition,” says Dr Bainton.

The report authors also recently completed a week-long workshop with Pacific colleagues where they worked on testing ideas from the research. They are currently developing a larger program of work to scale up their research.


Policy recommendations from the report:

  1. Policymakers must embrace a wider concept of a just transition that can consider justice issues tied to shifting from fossil fuels to low-carbon technologies.
  2. To avoid policy blind spots, we have to realise that the justice issues can converge, transform and amplify.
  3. Analysing the costs and benefits of mining energy-transition metals must consider a wide spectrum of costs borne not only by developers but by communities and other people.
  4. Future legacies of increased extraction in the Pacific are a major policy and legislative blind spot – addressing these is fundamental to a just transition.
  5. We need to increase supply chain due diligence to assess the full range of justice issues from mining in the Pacific to make sure the impacts align with broad concepts of just transitions.


For more information:

Media: Associate Professor Nick Bainton,; Dr Emilka Skrzypek,