Biodiversity In Mining

Biodiversity In Mining - Australian Mining Review

PRESERVING BIODIVERSITY is becoming an increasingly important function for mining companies as the combined pressures of social responsibility, legal compliance and business resilience begin to mount and the sector comprehends that ensuring the conservation of biodiversity can enhance its reputation, compliance and sustainability.

Biodiversity itself provides critical ecosystem services like carbon sequestration, nutrient recycling, pollination, soil formation, and pest control and these play an important function to both human health and that of the natural environment.

Where in the past mining companies have frequently taken a relaxed attitude towards biodiversity preservation, with an estimated 50,000 plus sites across the country abandoned and unrehabilitated, increasing amounts of legislation across the life cycle of a mine and more stringent scrutiny related to mine closure and rehabilitation are now in place.

Inherent to the mining process itself is the generation of waste products. Whether this is mine tailings; water or air pollution, acid mine drainage, heavy metal contamination and leaching, processing chemical pollution or erosion and sedimentation into nearby water bodies, a range of methods need to be employed to mitigate to the greatest extent possible ongoing environmental damage.

Mining residues and scars at older mine sites can also impact on local environments and the legacy of abandoned, unrehabilitated mine sites has in the past required comprehensive remediation efforts paid for with taxpayer’s funds, according to the ABS.

Although the direct impacts of mining on biodiversity are relatively small because of the generally small areas of land that mines use, the CSIRO says negative impacts on biodiversity can accumulate when there are multiple mining projects within a region and regional development around mines can spread these negative impacts across a broader area.

It says the three main strategies to mitigate the impact of mining on biodiversity for miners include before mining commences, during the life of the mine and mine closure.

In the planning stage of a mine site, strategic assessments that look at biodiversity impacts caused by regional development should be addressed.

During operations, any unavoidable impacts on biodiversity should be offset by supporting conservation activities elsewhere in the region.

At the end of the mine’s life cycle, the sites should not just re-establish vegetation cover but also develop self-sustaining ecosystems that interact positively with the surrounding landscape.

Industry Commitments

The Minerals Council of Australia has set out a biodiversity conservation management protocol in its Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM) Guiding Principles that MCA members recognise that access to land and a company’s social licence to operate depends upon responsible social, environmental and economic practices and that there is a strong business case for supporting biodiversity conservation.

The organisation, which is made up of some of the country’s leading mining companies – with one hundred mining company members and sixty associate members – says that its members accept a corporate commitment to biodiversity conservation and that mining conducted in consultation with local communities can co-exist with biodiversity conservation.

Members agree that a corporate commitment to biodiversity conservation is essential and

have agreed to the following commitments:

  • To positively contribute to the conservation of biodiversity through all stages

of the mining life cycle.

  • To work with key communities of interest to develop and implement responsible policies and practices that will integrate the importance of biodiversity conservation, including respect for critical habitat and factors affecting critical habitat, into mining and land-use planning and management strategies, including considering the option of not proceeding with a project.
  • Assess and monitor the state of biodiversity throughout the project cycle.
  • Apply the mitigation hierarchy to avoid, minimise, mitigate and/or offset for significant

adverse biodiversity effects.

  • Enhance, through research, information sharing, collaboration and/or partnerships, the industry’s understanding of and contribution to biodiversity conservation, science and Indigenous knowledge.
  • Establish, finance and implement comprehensive rehabilitation plans that, wherever practicable, return mine sites to viable and diverse ecosystems that will serve the needs of post-mining use.
  • Recognise that mining can permanently alter landscapes and that other desirable land uses may be considered in rehabilitation plans when justified by site-specific circumstances.
  • To commit to transparency and public reporting on issues related to mining and biodiversity conservation.
  • To recognise that protected areas can contribute to biodiversity conservation
  • Comply with the requirements of legally designated protected areas and commit to working with key communities of interest to develop transparent, inclusive, informed and equitable decision-making processes for the establishment of protected areas.
  • To undertake not to explore or develop mines in World Heritage sites and to ensure all possible steps are taken to ensure that pre-existing operations in World Heritage sites, as well as existing and future operations adjacent to World Heritage sites, are compatible and co-exist with biodiversity goals.