Wetlands and extractive industries - what's at stake?


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What is it about?

Economic, industrial and energy developments are leading to accelerating global demand for extracted resources, including non-renewable resources such as oil and gas, precious and base minerals, coal, sand and gravel, industrial minerals and peat. Artisanal, small- and large-scale extraction projects all have the potential, if not well-managed, to impact wetlands and wetland ecosystem services. Wetlands may be particularly vulnerable because many extractive industries use water-intensive processes, which affect the availability of water for sustaining wetlands, and may also generate toxic waste that can contaminate surface and underground water bodies in and around wetlands.

What the Convention does

• Resolutions adopted by the Parties stress the importance of balanced planning and decision-making, emphasizing the use of Ramsar’s guidance on Environmental Impact Assessment and Strategic Environmental Assessment.

• A number of recent Ramsar Advisory Missions have focused upon the impacts on wetlands of proposed mining or extraction projects; their reports provide a valuable knowledge resource and insights into how to achieve a better balance between shorter-term economic imperatives and longer-term needs for protection of wetlands and their ecosystem services.

What needs to be done next?

Wise policy and planning should address all phases of extractive projects, from exploration to operation and closure, paying particular attention to ensuring that long-term post-closure management and responsibilities are provided for. Effective implementation, however, depends on effective governance by both regulators and the industries.


Integrated planning for mining

Medium and large scale extractive industries generally plan their activities well in advance to cover the exploration, production, closure and post-closure phases of mining, depending on what conditions have been included in their permits to operate.  Ideally, wetland management, protection and restoration issues should be addressed at early stages of mine planning, and should be integrated with mine water management planning before production begins.  This will go a long way to avoiding or minimising negative impacts on wetland ecosystems during and after mine production, and can be done if there are strong working relationships between the mining companies, wetland managers in government agencies, and local communities.


Key response areas for the wetlands sector

[Please see the document on “Wetlands and extractive industries: background information” which was presented at COP10, link: http://www.ramsar.org/pdf/cop10/cop10_doc24_e.pdf]


Provide information to ensure consideration of the full range of wetland ecosystem services in decision making. Valuation of the full range of wetland ecosystem services must be incorporated into decision-making processes, both within the mining sector and in independent/external EIA processes, in order to fully assess long-term costs and benefits and the distribution of those costs and benefits. It is particularly important to be able to quantify the costs of remediation, mitigation, and restoration in the post-handover phase, since these costs may have to be borne by the public.

Catch up with economic drivers in mining sector. The wetlands sector should not get left behind or left out of decision-making processes, especially as timelines get shorter for mining/extraction projects to move from exploration to production: 

  • Prioritise wetland inventory and baseline data collection activities for areas where the potential for mining and extraction activity is high, in order to have good information available for SEA/EIA processes. This is an area where there could be significant benefits from partnering with a mining company (or several companies) who have leases or are actively exploring in an area.  They can make their expertise, field capacity and laboratory capacity available to assist in baseline studies, which would improve the permitting, management and planning processes for all parties.
  • Get educated, with credible scientific information related to mining technologies, potential impacts, mitigation and restoration options, long- and short-term costs in order to be prepared for EIA and license application processes. In this area, there could be benefits from working with representative industry bodies such as International Council on Mining and Metals (www.ICMM.com) and IPIECA (http://www.ipieca.org/about-us). 
  • Ensure access to appropriate scientific capacity and expertise for advice, review and guidance during all phases of the mining cycle.

Strengthen decision-making processes to address protection and wise use of wetlands in all phases of mining/extraction projects.
Strengthen requirements for, and enforcement of, corporate social responsibility (CSR) and strengthen national and transboundary governance systems to ensure:

  • Due process and proper attention to valuation of wetland ecosystem(s) services in the cost-benefit analysis (ecological, social, economic and cultural values) prior to permitting of mining/extraction activities;
  • Adequate enforcement and compliance with conditions of permits in all phases of mining/extraction activity; and
  • Adequate attention to managing and implementing requirements of the post-closure and post-handover phases – assignment of responsibility, accountability. 
     


Additional Resources


“Extractive Industries: Risks and challenges for Africa’s wetlands”

This is a presentation by Denis Landenbergue (Freshwater Unit, WWF International).



Rio Tinto also formed a partnership with Birdlife International to “implement collaborative conservation projects relevant to mining operations”.  From the Rio Tinto website, it states:

"Impacts on biodiversity make mining and processing projects potentially sensitive for regulators, local communities, investors, non government organisations (NGOs) and employees. Our long term business success depends on our ability to understand and manage these issues. As part of our biodiversity strategy, our goal is to have a "net positive impact" (NPI) on biodiversity. This means minimising the impacts of our business and contributing to biodiversity conservation to ensure a region ultimately benefits from our presence."

Discussion of value of ecosystem services affected by the Deepwater Horizon accident.

European Union guidance on mining activities (PDF).

The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative offers some interesting opportunities for improved governance.

The World Bank’s Extractive Industries TAF (Technical Assistance Facility) particularly focuses on helping governments negotiate fair contracts with mining companies (whether these are private companies or sovereign i.e. owned by other governments).

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