Sustainable water use

The earth’s freshwater resources are essential for all forms of life. Not only do they provide our drinking water and help to maintain a thriving ecosystem, but they’re also vital to agriculture (which accounts for 70 per cent of global freshwater use) and industry (20 per cent – that’s twice the amount used for domestic purposes), as well as a wide range of household, recreational and environmental activities.

Yet these precious resources are finite – comprising less than 3% of the planet’s total water supply – and under increasing pressure from the competing demands of a growing global population, urbanisation, industrialisation and the impacts of climate change.

‘As freshwater becomes increasingly scarce, and competition for resources grows, the ways in which we plan, manage and monitor its usage are ever more important.’

Already, as many as 1.2 billion people live in areas of water scarcity, with many experts predicting that global water demand will exceed supply by 40 per cent as imminently as 2030. As freshwater becomes increasingly scarce, and competition for resources grows, the ways in which we plan, manage and monitor its usage are ever more important. However, water continues to be an undervalued, poorly managed resource in many countries.

This is a worldwide crisis that affects us all, yet it cannot be solved by any single party acting alone. The United Nations’  Sustainable Development Goal 6 endorses a partnership approach, calling on a broad range of stakeholders – many of whom may have conflicting goals and interests – to work collaboratively, ensuring ongoing access to water and sanitation for everyone on the planet. In order to achieve this goal, governments, civil society, communities and the private sector need to work together to pursue the sustainable management of water, finding effective solutions that work for all water users.

Why water management matters in mining and metals
Despite the current water crisis, there could be enough water to meet the world’s growing needs – but only if there’s a global step-change in the way that this vital resource is used, managed and shared.

As a significant user of water, the mining and metals industry has a key role to play in effecting this change. Water is a critical requirement of the sector’s activities: not only for the health and wellbeing of its employees, but at every stage of the operational life cycle, including closure. This dependency in turn creates material risks for the industry itself, the communities with which its operations interact and the environment.

Yet by mining with principles, the sector can actually be an effective partner for development, helping to deliver sustainable water solutions which meet the needs of the communities its operations interact with around the world.

Mining with principles requires a strong commitment to the use and management of water in a manner that is:

  • socially equitable
  • environmentally sustainable
  • economically beneficial for all.

Additionally, the use of proactive and holistic water management strategies can also create substantial competitive advantage, via a range of associated benefits, including:

  • reducing water-related risk
  • identifying opportunities
  • attracting investment
  • building trust through improved transparency.

The pursuit of sustainable water use, management, policies and practices can therefore create its own ‘virtuous circle’, ensuring wide-reaching benefits for everyone involved in – or affected by – the mining and metals sector’s activities and operations.

Our commitment to change
ICMM is firmly committed to sustainable water management, along with embedding ethical business practices and policies within the sector.

To this end, alongside the 10 principles outlined in our existing sustainable development framework, in January 2017 we launched our position statement on water stewardship – a fully binding statement detailing the responsibility of our member companies to adopt water management strategies which:

  • apply strong and transparent water governance
  • manage water at operations effectively
  • ensure collaboration to achieve responsible and sustainable water use.

‘ICMM’s continued push and progress on water stewardship is commendable. This isn’t just raising the bar and expectations within the mining sector but across all business sectors. They would do well to follow.’

– Stuart Orr, Practice Lead for Water, WWF International

This move has been extremely well received. Going forward, we encourage the adoption of this approach by the broader industry – as a way to provide meaningful information that supports better water use, effective management and to contribute to overall improved water security and sanitation for all.

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