South Africa: Moving the Global Mining Industry Towards Biodiversity Awareness

Photo: HRW
Guinea’s fast-growing bauxite mining industry is threatening the livelihoods of thousands of Guineans.
press release

UN Environment and partners are working with businesses to highlight the benefits of biodiversity-sensitive best practices in the mining sector.

Poorly managed mining operations can pollute the environment and damage the biodiversity that underpins economies, provides food, fuel, building materials and freshwater, and helps to mitigate the impacts of climate change and natural disasters.

Mining companies also need healthy ecosystems. For example, they need reliable water supplies, and in coastal areas they might need the protection from storm surges afforded by mangroves.

The mining sector - whether for bauxite, iron ore, copper, coal, diamonds, tin, or rare Earth metals - is expected to grow significantly over the next 30 years and is at the core of national economic development growth forecasts. The sector is also likely to see significant changes.

"A global energy transition to address climate change will create new and vital markets for mined materials," says UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre expert Matt Jones.

"If we want battery technology to support electric vehicles, we need lithium. Construction of solar panels and wind turbines are reliant on mined materials. While we continue to advocate for higher recycling rates of these metals, much will need to be mined to support a global shift."

Sustainable mining requires companies to better understand and appreciate the value of biodiversity both to their long-term operations and to local communities.

What does "mainstreaming biodiversity" mean in practice?

The Convention on Biological Diversity has initiated the discussion on how consideration of biodiversity in policy and approaches can become normal practice in the energy and mining sector. It is supported by the UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre. This issue, known as "mainstreaming" of biodiversity will be debated at the 2018 UN Biodiversity Conference in Sharm el-Sheikh in November 2018 where the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity will meet.

UN Environment and partners are working with the Convention on Biological Diversity to change mindsets and highlight the value of preserving biodiversity. Leading extractives companies and the UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre are collaborating under the Proteus project "Improving global data and strengthening business approaches for biodiversity management" to provide companies with the biodiversity information needed for better-informed decisions.

"As pioneers in mining and metals, we produce materials essential for human progress," says Theresia Ott, Principal Advisor - Group Environment, Rio Tinto. "Because we want to minimize the environmental impact of our operations, we are part of the Proteus Partnership. This collaboration with the UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre provides data and tools - such as the integrated biodiversity assessment tool - to screen for and respond to potential impacts to biodiversity at and around our sites."

Companies should consider all environmental impacts. "It is important to consider direct, indirect, induced and cumulative impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem services throughout the lifecycle of a mining project, including exploration, construction, operation, closure, and post closure and legacy," says UN Environment Extractives Hub Coordinator Janyl Moldalieva.

For biodiversity to become mainstream in their businesses, companies need to have good metrics. This is a challenge for many of them. So far, these metrics have always been process-driven (How many action plans are in place?) and not performance-driven (Is biodiversity getting better or worse at project sites?). The UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre is about to start a pilot that involves working with companies at their sites so that they can measure biodiversity performance, and not just policy.

"Companies should follow a strict hierarchy to avoid, minimize, restore and only then offset significant residual impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem services. It's industry good practice, and the basis of all robust risk-based approaches to managing and mitigating impacts from mining operations," says Jones.

Biodiversity - ranging from bacteria and fungi to exotic plants, lemurs and sharks, to entire ecosystems, on which we all depend for our survival - continues to decline in all regions of the world.

Significant additional action is needed to achieve the Aichi Biodiversity Targets and the objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity. A fundamental principle of the Convention is the effective participation of indigenous peoples and local communities in all matters that affect them within its mandate. The mining sector needs to be part of the solution.

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