Better controls, new technologies and more sophisticated monitoring techniques in gold, silver, nickel, copper, diamonds, zinc, and uranium mining all contribute to better environmental performance. Release levels of mining and metals may vary from year to year, influenced by changing production levels, for example. But the trend is clearly toward significant, meaningful reduction in the releases of key substances such as mercury, sulphur dioxide, lead and cadmium. These reductions have led to improved exposure conditions for the environment and communities around operations.1

At a local level, a mine has the potential to significantly benefit the local population through the creation of direct and indirect employment, skills transfer, enhancing the capacity of health and education services, improved infrastructure, and small and medium business opportunities. However, the advent of mining and the inevitable closure of a mine, can also cause significant adverse effects on the local population, infringing on certain rights, and affecting their traditional means to livelihood. This can be manifest in many ways, impacting on land rights and the rights of indigenous people, induced inflation, influx of newcomers to the area, disruption of traditional social structures and social jealousy.2

Poverty rates are highest in certain diamond mining industry as miners work for little or no pay as there are a few formal jobs to go around.

There are nine key challenges facing the mining and metals industry:

• Viability of the minerals industry will depend on sustainable development if companies wish to survive and succeed. This requires a safe, healthy, educated, and committed work force.
• The control, use, and management of land is key to mineral development along with competing land uses. There is frequently a lack of planning or other frameworks to balance and manage possible uses.
• Minerals and economic development have the potential to contribute to poverty alleviation and broader economic development at the national and international level.
• Local communities and mines development can also bring benefits at the local level. Recent trends towards, for example, smaller work forces and outsourcing affect communities adversely.
• Mining and minerals activities have a significant environmental impact. Managing these impacts more effectively requires dealing with unresolved issues of handling immense quantities of waste, developing ways of internalising the costs of acid drainage, improving both impact assessment and environmental management systems.
• An integrated approach to using minerals is essential for modern living.
• Access to information is key to building greater trust and cooperation. The quality of information and its use, production, flow, accessibility, and credibility affect the interaction of all actors in the sector.
• Artisan and small-scale mining affect many millions of people who make their living through it. This is characterised by low income, unsafe working conditions, serious environmental impacts, exposure to hazardous materials such as mercury vapours, and conflict with larger companies and governments.
• Sustainable development requires new integrated systems of governance. Most countries still lack the framework for turning minerals investment into sustainable development: these need to be developed.3

Recommendations:

Mineral and metal products are essential to improving energy efficiencies and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Examples include, the use of copper in high-efficiency motors and efficient energy transmission and the use of precious and base metals and other minerals in the application of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies.

An action plan should include a broad portfolio of energy options which should include:

• Future initiatives should develop technology capable of achieving near “zero emissions”
• Technologies that improve carbon reduction, including a range of renewable energy sources;
• Technologies that improve energy efficiency across all sectors such as buildings, appliances and other energy-consuming equipment, as well as transportation, including large mobile equipment; and
• Technologies that reduce, capture and sequester carbon dioxide emissions should be used as a transitional measure while alternative renewable energy sources are developed.
• Expanding scientific and technical research to improve the world’s understanding of climate change including prudent adaptation measures; and
• Identification and reduction of barriers to the implementation and transfer of climate technology with a focus on investment, intellectual property rights and other barriers that may impede technology transfer.

Notes

1. The Mining Association of Canada, ‘Towards Sustainable Mining. Progress Report 2005,’ p.13, MAC, www.mining.ca
2. World Bank, ‘Mining and Community,’ http://web.worldbank.org
3. IIED ‘Mining, minerals and sustainable development project,’ International Institute for Environment and Development, www.iied.org