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Sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, halt biodiversity loss

SDG15 calls for rapid and full observance of all international agreements relating to conservation, restoration and sustainable use of land; sustainable forest management; and combatting desertification.

Land-based ecosystems and the related services they provide are thought to underpin 40 per cent of the world’s economy and 80 per cent of the needs of the poor. Forests cover 30 per cent of the Earth’s surface and are essential to combating climate change, protecting biodiversity and ensuring food security (especially for indigenous forest peoples). The livelihoods of 1.6 billion people depend on them (including 70 million Indigenous Peoples) and they are home to 80 per cent of the word’s land-based animal and plant life. Yet 13 million hectares of forests are lost every year (an area the size of England) while degradation of drylands has led to the desertification of 3.6 billion hectares. Land-based ecosystems are critical for carbon storage and sequestration and for the conservation of threatened species and their habitats. Since 1970 there has been a 52 per cent reduction of wildlife populations and of the 8,300 known animal species, 8 per cent are already extinct and 22 per cent are at risk of extinction.

How is this relevant to mining and metals?

Mining and its associated infrastructure can disrupt both the ecosystems that provide valuable services to society and the biodiversity on which these ecosystems depend. The mitigation hierarchy of avoid, minimise, restore, enhance and offset, provides a framework for mining and other companies to assess and determine measures to protect ecosystems and biodiversity. The mining sector is also a major manager of land as mining leases are usually much larger than the directly impacted footprint of mining activities. As a manager of large areas of land, mining companies have a potentially important role to play in biodiversity and conservation management.

What companies need to know to manage impacts or make a positive contribution:

  1. the biodiversity within areas of operation, including the presence of protected areas, critical habitat and any endangered species

  2. how current and future activities might adversely impact on biodiversity or the ecosystem services it provides

  3. what opportunities exist to strengthen biodiversity and ecosystems at an operational level in partnership with other local stakeholders.

Industry action may involve:

  • supporting projects to link biodiversity with local social-economic development
  • encouraging and participating in landscape-level planning processes
  • developing post-closure plans which aim to leave landscapes and ecosystems in a more resilient, and diverse state than pre-mining
  • applying mitigation hierarchy to minimise impacts on biodiversity
  • avoiding impacting critical habitat
  • offset biodiversity impacts where residual loss of biodiversity is unavoidable.