Ocean Governance and Geological Resources
This programme encourages innovative thinking about how marine resources are used and managed in Africa and the Pacific.
A new report says mining companies can take a simple step to reduce environmental destruction and death by changing the way they store and manage mine waste.
A new report on by UN Environment and GRID-Arendal calls for mining companies around the world to be bold and change the way they operate. It points out that every year mine storage dams fail, sometimes killing people, but always massively damaging the environment.
These dam failures are no accident – they are a testament to the inability of mining companies to reach a standard of construction and management that they themselves acknowledge is possible. According to the report, this standard would result in zero tailings dam failures. But it’s a standard that requires the commitment of dedicated personnel and funding.
If it takes a big event to make change, the report says now is the time.
The people of Brazil are still cleaning up, and will be for many years, following one of the biggest environmental disasters in mining history. The failure of the BHP and Vale owned Samarco tailings dam at the end of 2015 killed 19 people (many of them employees of the company), devastated downstream villages and contaminated 650 kilometres of the Rio Doce River system. The scale of this disaster and its effect on the lives of thousands of people is something that can be avoided in the future. But chances are it will happen again, the report says, unless mining companies are made accountable – with universally adopted enforceable agreements.
Mining is not incompatible with safety and environmental responsibility. This report, which is part of the United Nations Environment Programme’s Rapid Response Assessment series – a series that is reserved for the most pressing environmental problems – examines why tailings dams fail and makes the recommendations needed to fix the problem.
The solution to solving the problems of mine waste are relatively simple and have been identified by the industry in many post disaster reviews and during the development of best practice guidelines. The report condenses this information into two main recommendations and associated actions:
1) Safety should be evaluated separately from economic considerations, and
2) Governments should improve tailings dam regulation.
The associated actions that support these recommendations include knowledge and awareness raising, mechanisms for ensuring financial accountability and enforcement initiatives. Most important, however, is an effort to find better solutions than building enormous dams and filling them with potentially toxic sludge.
report will be part of the discussion at the 2017 UN Environment Assembly side
event, on extractives industries, which will take place on Monday, 4 December
from 6:00 - 7:30 pm in Nairobi as part of UNEA3. For more information please
email Kristina Thygesen at Kristina.firstname.lastname@example.org