Biodiversity – the wide variety of plant and animal life underpinning natural systems and processes – is vital to the health and wellbeing of our planet and its inhabitants.
Humanity is reliant on biodiversity for its food supplies, raw materials and medicines, along with essential processes such as air oxygenation, water purification and climate moderation. Yet booming human population figures, the over-exploitation of natural resources and increased environmental pollution during the past 200 years have severely damaged global biodiversity.
Species are reducing in number or becoming extinct (WWF data suggests wildlife populations have halved since 1970), with various ecosystems – from rain forests to coral reefs and wetlands – also suffering extreme damage.
Current efforts to halt or even slow this rate of habitat loss and species extinction are failing to protect some of the planet’s most endangered animals, landscapes and the natural resources vital to our survival and economic growth. The protection of such habitats, and especially World Heritage sites, is therefore of paramount importance.
Mining and the environment
If mining is not responsibly and sustainably managed, its potential environmental downsides can include a loss of bioidiversity, the formation of sinkholes, erosion, or the chemical contamination of groundwater, surfacewater and soil.
However, ICMM believes the mining and metals industry and environmental conservation can co-exist – when companies mitigate the impact of their activities by mining with principles. This means promoting or adopting sustainable land management practices, supporting the conservation of biodiversity and reducing environmental harm.
In 2003, ICMM members committed not to explore or mine in World Heritage sites and to respect all legally protected areas – more than 10 years before the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs 11 and 15) called for a strengthening of efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s natural heritage.
We believe the mining and metals industry and environmental conservation can co-exist – when companies mitigate the impact of their activities by mining with principles.
We continue to uphold this commitment, working with partners such as the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to encourage governments, industry, and civil society to take greater collective responsibly for protecting World Heritage sites, safeguarding areas of high biodiversity value and promoting the sustainable use of natural resources.
Our Sustainable Development Framework also requires members to contribute to the conservation of biodiversity, partnering with the IUCN, other NGOs and conservation experts to develop practical guidance on effective biodiversity management. We are also part of the Cross-Sector Biodiversity Initiative (CSBI) – a partnership between mining, oil, gas, and finance organisations that seeks to tackle common challenges related to biodiversity and ecosystem management in the extractive industries.
Protecting climate, communities, and biodiversity in Chile
ICMM member company BHP is showing its commitment to protecting the biodiversity, carbon sequestration and community value of land – by partnering with Conservation International and The Nature Conservancy to preserve 50,000 hectares of the Valdivian Coastal Reserve in southern Chile. The agreement includes planting 2.5 native trees and removing non-native species, to restore the original forest. As well as protecting native flora and fauna, the conservation of the Reserve provides financial stability and opportunities for local communities who live in and rely upon the region.
The Valdivian Coastal Reserve is one of 34 Biodiversity Hotspots in the world – so called because they contain at least 1,500 species of endemic plants. The protection of the Reserve is significant, not just for its conservation of such a wide variety of plants and species, but also because it has significant climate change mitigation potential. So much so, that it became the first carbon project in Chile to receive Climate, Community and Biodiversity (CCB) verification.
Dune forest restoration in South Africa
ICMM member Rio Tinto has also been successful in supporting conservation in southern Africa. Through its subsidiary Richards Bay Minerals, it supports South Africa’s longest running environmental rehabilitation programme, the restoration of the indigenous coastal dune forest of KwaZulu-Natal.
After minerals have been extracted, the original dunes are re-created, with topsoil (and other organic matter removed as part of the mining process) retrieved and spread over the re-shaped dunes. Fast-growing annuals are then planted – catalysing biological processes, greening and stabilising the dunes, while protecting soil from wind and water erosion. Independent monitoring and research has demonstrated the success of these rehabilitation efforts in restoring an ecosystem akin to undisturbed forests in the region.
Partnering for development
Mining and metals companies have a responsibility to care for the planet. At ICMM, we encourage companies to respect World Heritage sites, and to partner with others to protect, restore and promote the sustainable use of all other natural habitats. By mining with principles, industry can also be an effective partner for development, supporting environmental conservation while supplying the metals and minerals needed for the prosperity of all people around the world.