Phasing out mercury? Ecological economics and Indonesia's small-scale gold mining sector

Samuel Spiegel, Sumali Agrawal, Dino Mikha, Kartie Vitamerry, Philippe Le Billon, Marcello Veiga, Kulansi Konolius, Bardolf Paul

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

This article uses an ecological economics approach to analyse tensions surrounding efforts to phase out mercury in Indonesia's artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) sector, among the largest sources of mercury pollution worldwide. Many scholars and environmental activists have long hoped that global restrictions in mercury trade would drive up mercury prices and decrease mercury use and pollution in ASGM. However, in Indonesia,despite global mercury trade restrictions, recent increases in domestic mercury supplies through new cinnabar mining developments have made mercury less expensive and more available, destabilizing efforts at reducing mercury use. This article discusses implications of domestic cinnabar mining for controlling mercury in Indonesia's ASGM sector, highlighting obstacles to implementing the Minamata Convention, a treaty that aims to restrict mercury use. We link discussion of mercury mining to other socio economic processes, labour relations and power dynamics shaping mercury use in gold mining and hindering collectivised mercury-free technology uptake. Examining new evidence regarding the social metabolism of a changing extractive economy, we underscore why an integrated ecological economics paradigm – carefully grounding analysis in the context of local labour situations – is needed to challenge assumptions and inform new strategies for mercury reduction/elimination in ASGM.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalEcological Economics
Early online date25 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2018

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • mercury pollution
  • ecological economics
  • small-scale gold mining
  • artisanal gold mining
  • environmental governance
  • cleaner technology
  • marginalisation
  • Minamata Convention on Mercury


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