Create FREE account or log in

to receive MINING.COM digests


Government plays key role in water, waste, biodiversity management of mining sector – report

(Image courtesy of the Intergovernmental Forum on Mining, Minerals, Metals and Sustainable Development).

The Intergovernmental Forum on Mining, Minerals, Metals and Sustainable Development (IGF) released a new report that provides guidance on the role of national, provincial and local authorities when it comes to the good governance of the mining sector. 

One of the key topics in the document is water management which, within the mining context, requires governments to have appropriate environmental management standards in place for the use of surface and groundwater. The IGF asks for these standards to be strictly monitored, and have appropriate penalties should they be compromised.

Among the mechanisms to safeguard water usage, the Forum suggests governments should develop water management policies and programs at the watershed level; set mine effluent criteria and receive water objectives based on site-specific conditions; through the environmental and social impact assessments review and mine permitting process, review the plans and set conditions for water use and discharges; and during construction, operation, and closure, track mine water management performance and enforce compliance to protect water resources.

Governments should have an overall understanding of the potential water management risks and issues present in their mining sectors 

“It is important for governments to have an overall understanding of the potential water management risks and issues present in their mining sectors and to obtain expert advice and assistance as and where needed for effective control and governance through all mine phases,” the report reads.

“This includes water management in the post-mining transition if and when the responsibility for long-term management may revert to the government. Using a risk-based framework that considers risks, their likelihood, and their consequences to determine water management priorities is typically a good place to start, given the broad range of risks that can arise around water management in the mining sector.”

On the industry side, the IGF asks for companies to ensure that the quality and quantity of mine effluent streams discharged to the environment —including stormwater, leach pad drainage, process effluents, and mine works drainage— are managed and treated to meet established effluent discharge guideline values, and that water-leaching or percolating waste dumps, tailings storage areas, and leach pads have equivalent protection.

Under the IGF’s Mining Policy Framework, companies are also required to have in place practices and plans that minimize the likelihood of impacts beyond the mining site, particularly potential transboundary impacts.

Waste management

Another key point addressed in the report is that of waste management.

According to the Forum, governments have a central role to play in ensuring that the byproducts of the mining sector, namely waste rock, tailings, dissolving solutions from heap leaching, precipitates from water treatment and chemical recovery processes, and dust, are managed effectively by ensuring that structures such as waste dumps and tailings storage facilities are planned, designed, and operated such that geotechnical risks and environmental impacts are appropriately assessed and managed throughout the entire mine cycle and after mine closure.

To this end, it is suggested that governments develop mine waste management standards based on site-specific risk prior to mine permitting; set quality requirements for tailings facility stability and establish requirements for independent tailings review panels based on site-specific risk, and require accountability to reinforce good corporate management. 

Authorities are also asked to use the environmental and social impact assessments review and mine permitting process to review and approve the mine waste management plans and consider financial mechanisms to manage facility risks in the long term. 

It is also advised that during construction, operation, and closure, governments track mine waste management performance and enforce compliance to protect land and water resources, as well as worker and community safety. 

“It is important for governments to have an overall understanding of the potential issues and what affects them and to obtain expert advice and assistance where and as needed for effective control and governance through all mine phases,” the guidance states. “This includes once mining has finished and the mine has been closed if and when the responsibility for long-term management of facilities may revert to government. Climatic conditions and the impact of climate change on engineered structures and their systems also need to be considered when contemplating various operating and post-mining transition and closure conditions.”

Biodiversity

When it comes to biodiversity, the IGF points out that collaboration between mining companies, communities and governments is key.

Forum experts indicate that all three actors have understood the importance of conserving and protecting biodiversity and ecosystem services, in recognition of the role that biodiversity can play in supporting economies and operations and in maintaining the physical and mental wellbeing of surrounding individuals and communities, particularly those that more heavily rely on these services, including women and Indigenous groups. 

“In response, companies are increasingly working with partners to find ways that they can avoid, minimize, and restore any negative impacts their activities have on biodiversity and offset those residual impacts that cannot be avoided,” the report states.

Within this context, the IGF recommends that governments avoid and minimize potential adverse effects of mining on biodiversity by requiring that mining entities submit environmental management programs and updates for approval prior to permitting and whenever there are significant process or operational changes during the operating life of the mine.

Authorities are also asked to identify, monitor, and address potential and actual risks to and impacts on biodiversity throughout the mining cycle, as well as require that mining entities conduct monitoring on a continuous basis based on national standards and the conditions of the operating permit, compile and submit performance assessments to government, and publish regular reports that are readily accessible to the public. 

“When considering the merits of a proposed mining project, governments will have to weigh the economic and development needs of the country and the local community against its conservation and environmental goals in a way that accounts for the needs and expectations of different stakeholders, including Indigenous communities, women, and children,” the guideline reads. “However, active collaboration on biodiversity management and protection among governments, companies, and local communities is increasingly seen as a win–win–win. Governments can follow certain good international practices as they move toward improving the protection of biodiversity and ecosystem services.”

For the IGF, if there is a solid legal and enforcement framework, companies should be compelled to design, build, operate, and close their mines in a way that results in no net loss to biodiversity over the life of the mine, or that results in a net positive impact on biodiversity over time. 

The Forum recommends resorting to the mitigation hierarchy, which helps guide companies in reducing the significant negative impacts of their operations on priority biodiversity and which is based on the iterative application throughout the project’s life cycle of four sequential steps: the preventive steps of avoidance and minimization and the remediating steps of rehabilitation/restoration and offsetting.