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. And its conservation requires leadership and collaboration from all sectors.
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.
Protecting World Heritage Sites
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 continue to uphold this commitment, working with partners 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.
ICMM's Mining Principles also require members to assess and address risks and impacts to biodiversity and ecosystem services by implementing the 'mitigation hierarchy': an internationally recognised approach designed to help limit, as far as possible, the adverse impacts of development projects on biodiversity and ecosystem services.
The mitigation hierarchy comprises a sequence of four key actions:
- avoid – anticipation and prevention of adverse impacts on biodiversity before actions or decisions are taken
- minimise – reduction in the duration, intensity, significance and/or extent of impacts that cannot be realistically avoided
- restore – measures taken to repair degradation or damage to specific biodiversity features and ecosystems
- offset – conservation outcomes applied to areas not impacted by a project to compensate for significant and adverse impacts of a mining project that cannot be avoided or restored.
Through the implementation of these commitments and approaches, ICMM members have achieved significant improvements in their biodiversity management.
For practical guidance on the implementation of the mitigation hierarchy, the Cross Sector Biodiversity Initiative (CSBI), a partnership between ICMM, IPIECA and the Equator Principles Association, has developed 'A Cross-Sector Guide for Implementing the Mitigation Hierarchy':
- Cleary defines the four steps of the mitigation hierarchy and their application within managing biodiversity throughout the life cycle of an extractive project.
- Provides clear, systematic guidance for determining and demonstrating biodiversity loss or gain as a result of mitigation efforts, highlighting links to ecosystem services where available and appropriate.
- Provides practical measures for predicting and verifying biodiversity conservation outcomes over time.
- Offers insights into documenting and comparing costs and savings resulting from mitigation action or inaction.
The publication is aimed at environmental professionals – working in, or with, extractive industries and financial institutions – who are responsible for biodiversity conservation.
Biodiversity Baseline Data
Biodiversity baseline studies play a vital role in enabling the application and
implementation of the mitigation hierarchy: supporting the assessment of the risks and impacts of projects on biodiversity and the designing of long-term biodiversity management and monitoring measures.
As biodiversity risks, management requirements, and information needs will vary from project-to-project, according to their varying needs, biodiversity baseline studies need to be adaptive. CSBI’s 'Good Practices for the Collection of Biodiversity Baseline Data' guidance summarises how biodiversity can be fully included in impact assessments and related management plans.