In March 2019 the world’s environmental decision-making body, the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA), adopted a resolution on sustainable mineral resource governance. The resolution touches on many key environmental issues related to mineral resources throughout the entire mining lifecycle. It calls for the sector to contribute to sustainable economic development while addressing threats to human and environmental health and well-being. It is a solid basis from which to embark on targeted action.
During the recent North American consultation on the UNEA resolution, CIRDI’s Jaime Webbe reflected on two pressing mineral resource governance issues that require more attention: namely, the definition and engagement of affected communities, and the cross-cutting issue of mineral resources and climate action.
Defining Affected Communities
Globally, there remains a lack of clarity and agreement between the perceived and recognized authority of community stakeholders. Government designation of communities affected by mineral resource extraction does not always align with the communities’ own definitions. The result is exclusion and weak engagement.
The UNEA resolution, with its focus on the expanded environmental impacts of mineral resource extraction, and it’s grounding in the SDGs and a human rights-based approach, presents an opportunity for both the public and private sector to consider the definition of affected stakeholders.
CIRDI’s work on gender has advanced good governance options to address this issue. CIRDI’s SUMM Ethiopia project supports a working group within the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum, focused on ensuring the collection of gender-disaggregated data and analysis in the sector. The working group has expanded the government’s application of stakeholder engagement tools to include previously excluded but highly vulnerable groups.
Establishing a regional community of practice to replicate and share Ethiopia’s experiences is a concrete example of a step that can be taken to enhance implementation of the UNEA resolution.
There is also space to enhance community engagement through the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) process in the mineral resources sector. In a research project carried out with Transparency International, CIRDI identified the need for clear procedural guidance on what counts as meaningful public consultation and Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) considerations when consultation is delegated to proponents within the mineral resource sector in Canada.
Establishing appropriate requirements for cultural competence for individuals or organisations carrying out assessments as part of the ESIA processes has been identified as a significant gap area for which the UNEA resolution presents a policy framework to drive action.
Extraction and Climate Change
Implementation of the Resolution also requires an increased focus on cross-cutting issues, especially, climate change. The expansion of mineral resource extraction risks running directly counter to national climate change actions.
Perhaps most common area where this issue arises is around water. Changes in precipitation patterns and the availability of water is a significant climate risk facing many communities. The growth in the number of mining projects located in areas where freshwater resources are scarce increases conflicts between communities and mining companies as climate adaptation plans come under threat.
There are, however, plausible solutions within reach. In Peru in 2008, mining company Cerro Verde began to plan for the expansion of a copper mine in Arequipa that would triple production in an area of water scarcity. In consultation with government and civil society groups, it was agreed that Cerro Verde would partner with regional and municipal governments and water management authorities to plan, build, finance, and operate a wastewater treatment plant. In exchange, Cerro Verde would receive a guaranteed volume of treated wastewater for use in mining operations. Additionally, 95% the municipal sewage and wastewater from Arequipa City that was previously discharged directly into the region’s principal freshwater source, the Rio Chili river, is now treated.
The intersection between climate and mineral resources extends to climate mitigation as well. Green energy technologies will be essential in ensuring that the mineral resource sector can achieve the mitigation targets required to achieve a 2 degree Celsius scenario.
Furthermore, emerging concepts such as forest-smart mining can deliver both biodiversity and climate benefits. CIRDI’s recent paper on Indigenous forest governance is a source of useful experience in the engagement of Indigenous communities in forest management.
Greater collaboration between the extractives sector and the communities in and around mines is critical in order to ensure that far from running counter to climate action, the sector can support and accelerate both adaptation and mitigation efforts.
The UNEA resolution on mineral resource governance provides an opportunity to accelerate action both domestically and abroad and CIRDI looks forward to continuing to engage with partners to enhance implementation of this important global call to action.
By Jaime Webbe
COO & Director of International Programs, CIRDI