75% of earth’s mines are within biologically-rich zones: WRI report
A new report warns of increased risks from mining in critical but unprotected ecosystems across the world, especially in developing countries. ‘Mining and Critical Ecosystems: Mapping the Risks’, which was released on November 12, states that three-fourths of the world’s active mines and exploratory areas are located in vulnerable watersheds and biologically-rich ecosystems.
Prepared by World Resources Institute (WRI), a global environmental research and policy organisation, this is the first study to use digital mapping technology to identify environmentally or socially vulnerable mining areas.
‘Mining and Critical Ecosystems’ is based on one of the most comprehensive global mining data sets available, including nearly 4,500 active mines and exploration sites for the mining of metals and precious gemstones.
The report addresses the underlying questions that form the basis of the World Bank’s Extractive Industries Review (EIR), a controversial evaluation of whether and under what conditions the Bank should invest in mining. The EIR’s final report is expected by December 30, 2003.
“This tool will raise a red flag if more analysis is needed by the World Bank and other financial institutions,” says Jonathan Lash, president of WRI. “Taking into consideration the environmental and social vulnerabilities mentioned in this report will help financial institutions make decisions and reduce financial risks.”
WRI’s report concludes that although current debates often centre on ‘no-go’ areas, or land that is already subject to legal protection, mining in vulnerable and unprotected ecosystems could pose an even greater threat. Three-quarters of active mines and exploratory sites overlap, or are within 10 km of areas of high conservation value.
It also claims that many developing countries, which are dependent on mines for income, lack important safeguards to ensure responsible mining -- such as the ability to enforce laws, control corruption and foster a strong civil society.
Nearly one-fourth of active mines and exploration sites are located in countries where governance structures are weakest. “In these countries, continued investment in mining will be unlikely to contribute to poverty alleviation unless governance improves,” says Marta Miranda, one of the authors of the report. “Financial institutions should also re-think support for any mine located in especially vulnerable areas, such as strictly protected areas, or those that propose environmentally risky practices such as dumping mine waste into rivers.”
The authors developed indicators addressing three major themes -- vulnerabilities, natural hazards and other contributing factors -- which they mapped at a global scale and in two case studies. They applied the global framework to detailed environmental and social data from the Philippines and Papua New Guinea -- chosen because of the importance of mining in their economies and the exceptionally high value of their ecosystems. While the Philippines has suffered extensive habitat destruction, Papua New Guinea’s ecosystems are largely intact.
The case studies indicate that more than a quarter of Papua New Guinea’s fragile forests occur within oil, gas, and mining concessions. In the Philippines, more than half of all exploration areas and mining leases overlap with areas of high ecological value; most are in earthquake-prone zones.
A significant proportion of mines in both countries are exposed to more than one vulnerability or risk. In Papua New Guinea, nearly three-quarters of all mines and exploration sites overlap with areas deemed to be environmentally and socially vulnerable.