2.2 National and international standards

Government policy and corporate policy are becoming increasingly committed to sustainable development. In general, while both sectors might commit to high standards and the use of available international protocols, they often leave implementation to individual companies or mining operations. For example, ICMM members are committed to responsible mining practices (as described in the ICMM ‘good practice mining’ resources available through www.icmm.com), but ICMM does not provide detailed, prescriptive guidance. Rather, it recommends an approach that is flexible and able to be tailored to meeting the specific local requirements of companies or mining projects.

Many standards or protocols seek to facilitate the operational implementation of sustainable development principles. They include voluntary industry protocols such as the ICMM principles or MCA’s Enduring value, as well as numerous relevant standards from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and Australian/New Zealand Standards (AS/NZS) for various aspects of monitoring.

The World Bank’s International Finance Corporation has developed a series of performance standards on social and environmental sustainability, as well as environmental, health and safety (EHS) guidelines for mining and general EHS guidelines, which are relevant to environmental and social monitoring and auditing (IFC 2006, 2007a, 2007b). In addition, an increasingly popular protocol is the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), which was established by the United Nations in conjunction with governments and civic and industry groups specifically to facilitate consistency and transparency in sustainability reporting (GRI 2006), and which is now in its fourth iteration (see sections 1.3 and 4.16). Although these protocols are essentially voluntary, compliance is increasingly being expected as evidence of good corporate governance.

2.2.1 Legislation and regulation

Australia

A range of Australian state and federal legislative requirements are relevant to monitoring, auditing and performance assessment for mining, such as the requirements for EIAs, surveying and monitoring of species or ecosystems listed under the EPBC Act, and regulations for monitoring air or water quality, pollutant discharges and so on. Many of the requirements are commonly included in mining leases and other statutory licences and conditions. In relation to the EPBC Act, consistency between state and federal government requirements is also increased by the fact that the process can be delegated so that only one set of environmental and social impact assessment requirements has to be met to comply with all federal, state and territory legislation and local government requirements.

However, the EPBC Act does not protect biodiversity of national significance from the impacts of abandoned mines; nor does state environmental protection legislation address the environmental impacts of abandoned mines (see, for example, QFCI 2012). In the absence of abandoned-mine legislation and policies, ambiguity remains over responsibilities, standards and processes to achieve beneficial post- mining land uses.

State governments have the primary constitutional power to manage the environment and to issue mining titles and environmental or pollution control licences. While different states have different requirements and expectations for monitoring, auditing and performance, the overarching philosophy applied in Australia is that of principle-based regulation. In practice, this means that mining companies have considerable flexibility in the practices they may use to meet specific performance targets (for example, water-quality guidelines that apply to their individual situation). This kind of regulatory regime is well suited to the implementation of leading practice principles by the mining industry, since it can more readily accommodate and recognise the development and implementation of better ways of meeting environmental performance targets. Leading practice helps to ensure continued improvement across all jurisdictions by aiming for performance outcomes that are beyond those that represent current industry best practice. Federal legislation has encouraged companies to undertake research by enabling them to take advantage of tax incentives for the implementation of innovative and systematically planned research studies. Monitoring is an integral part of sustainability research, since the monitoring data is needed to measure and document the effectiveness of new solutions to environmental management issues.

Under the Australian Government’s National Pollutant Inventory, specific pollutants emitted above minimum thresholds are required to be monitored (or estimated) and publicly reported.

Recently, the National Environment Protection Measures have undergone changes that must be applied in the management of contaminants (SCEW, n.d.). The concept of such measures is unique to Australia and is provided for under the national environment protection Acts.

Although compliance with the legally required measures does not, by itself, represent leading practice, companies recognised for leading practice consistently meet regulatory requirements for monitoring, auditing and reporting. They also tend to have more productive relationships with their community stakeholders as a result of being able to communicate robust monitoring and audit outcomes. In the event that a leading practice approach results in superior environmental performance more cost-effectively than had previously been considered practicable, the implementation of the practice is more likely to be considered favourably by regulators as part of future approvals processes or for applications for major changes to scope at already operating sites.

Having operated beyond the compliance requirements, operators who are proactively addressing knowledge gaps and integrating new knowledge into progressive rehabilitation and closure plans are more likely to successfully close their mine and be able to relinquish their mining tenure (see, for example, the ‘Monitoring to improve the quality of rehabilitation’ case study in Section 3.6). Those who do not operate beyond compliance may run the risk of having to manage site impacts such as contaminated water in perpetuity.

International

In the international sphere, monitoring and reporting are becoming increasingly important not only for demonstrating successful environmental management, but also for illustrating the company’s strategic approach to business continuity and sustainable growth (see Section 4.16.2, ‘Integrated reporting’).

The legislative and international basis for emissions accounting and reporting continues to evolve rapidly, along with ongoing global commitment to climate change mitigation. In anticipation of the shift to a low-carbon economy, companies are under increasing pressure from investors to demonstrate a move to low-carbon business models that effectively respond and adapt to increasing regulation and the swing in consumer sentiment. Demonstrating how the business is adapting not only to the physical risks but also to the financial and regulatory risks associated with climate change is critical, particularly as governments prepare to commit to the next round of targets under the Kyoto Protocol.

In 2012, following the expiry of the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, by which 37 industrialised countries and the European Union committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to an average of 5% against 1990 levels, the Doha amendment to the Kyoto Protocol was adopted. The amendment set out:

  • new commitments to reduce emissions by at least 18% below 1990 levels in the eight-year period from 2013 to 2020
  • a revised list of greenhouse gases to be reported on in the second commitment period.

In September 2014 at a UN summit in New York, countries under the Kyoto Protocol are expected to make pre- and post-2020 carbon reduction pledges, after which the monitoring and reporting requirements for companies may increase and performance standards become more prescriptive and demanding as governments endeavour to meet their new and ambitious reduction targets.

Trade restriction is also a critical area of focus in the international sphere. The European Commission’s 2006 regulation concerning the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals (REACH) aims to provide for detailed assessment of the potential impacts of pollutants of products balanced against the desire for protecting human health, the environment and industry competitiveness. For example, elevated arsenic levels in metal concentrate or technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive material may preclude export to Europe under the REACH regulations. Therefore, a company exporting products to Europe must ensure that it monitors product quality and associated aspects to ensure that they comply with the regulations or risk being excluded from a key economic market.

For more information, see the leading practice handbooks Risk management (DIIS 2016a) and Stewardship (DIIS 2006).

The Minimata Convention, signed by Australia and many other nations in 2013, requires a commitment to a reduction in mercury in the environment due to the health impacts of exposure.3 For example, where goldmines have historically used mercury, the removal of mercury from soils and aquatic environments is required. Monitoring and evaluation of performance are essential to demonstrate the achievement of objectives.

2.2.2 Community expectations

It is normal for local communities in the vicinity of mining or mineral processing projects to want to stay informed about environmental aspects, social investment, economic contributions, statutory obligations and the like.

Historically, the mining industry has at times failed to provide timely information to stakeholders and the broader community about all aspects of particular mining operations. To achieve leading practice in this area, companies are becoming aware of what the community expects to know about mining operations and are setting up frameworks to identify stakeholders and their expectations, collect monitoring and auditing data over the life of the project, and report regularly to the affected community. This is part of a company’s social licence to operate, as noted in the MCA’s Enduring value framework.

Stakeholder engagement at the regional or catchment scale is emerging as an important tool. The multi-stakeholder Fitzroy Partnership for River Health is one example.4

Collapsed - Case study: PanAust in Laos—working with communities for sustainable livelihoods

Mining companies seeking to support community livelihoods via supply chain opportunities must be prepared to adopt flexible and adaptive procurement systems. Procurement needs to be responsive to local entrepreneurial capacities and informed by robust participatory monitoring and evaluation that ensures continuous improvement in locally based partnerships. Australian mining company PanAust faced this challenge. PanAust operates Phu Bia Mining, a Lao-registered company owned 90% by PanAust and 10% by the Government of Laos. Phu Bia Mining operates the Phu Kham copper–gold operation and the Ban Houayxai gold–silver operation in Laos.

Phu Kham, which is around 120 km north of the Lao capital, Vientiane, is directly adjacent to two villages—Nam Gnone and Nam Mo, which are home to 713 households with a population of 4,095 residents. The population is made up mainly of ethnic Lao, Khmu and Hmong people with a traditional economy historically based on subsistence agriculture.

Since the commencement of the operation in 2005, PanAust has undertaken regular socioeconomic and health survey monitoring as part of its operational and sustainable development activities. Aimed at enabling the company and the community to understand change as it unfolds, the surveys have shown a shift towards a cash-based economy, with household assets increasing in both villages and with fewer households exploiting natural resources through hunting, fishing and the collection of non-timber forest products.

The data from the socioeconomic monitoring surveys is used to provide a clearer picture of development needs and help prioritise both PanAust’s and the community’s development decisions and actions. The company has facilitated participatory community planning in local communities to better understand villagers’ own perspectives on development challenges and priorities. Both approaches are used to provide a balanced community development program.

With the support of a company-sponsored community development fund, village development committees have worked with the company to identify and implement development activities that build upon local skills and capacities and provide the community with sustainable enterprise opportunities.

As a result, in 2009 PanAust partnered with the Lao Women’s Union from the district (now province) of Xaysomboun to introduce and promote village savings and credit funds. These village banks provide microfinance services, including secure savings and flexible loan facilities to support enterprise development. In 2013, the funds had 487 registered members in the two villages and were providing US$7,500 in micro loans on average each month. The day-to-day management, monitoring and reporting of outcomes for the microfinance program is managed by the community with ongoing technical support from PanAust.

Building upon the opportunities, villagers in Ban Nam Mo and Ban Nam Gnone formed a cooperative in 2009 to coordinate the production and sale of vegetables. The Phu Kham camp, as a large consumer of fresh vegetables, was identified as a potential vehicle to support a market garden enterprise and livelihood development program. Building on the community’s traditional agricultural base, PanAust community officers helped the village development committee to identify and register participants, establish a farmers cooperative, prepare agricultural land and provide training to enable improvements in the quality, quantity and variety of produce. Market gardeners were able to borrow from the newly established village savings and credit funds.

The program grew rapidly, and by 2013 the camp was buying an average of 12,000 kilograms of vegetables from about 120 local farmers each month. Produce is delivered to a weekly point of sale in the village where it is sold under the monitoring and supervision of the village development committee and company staff. Total sales volume reached US$172,000 in 2013, providing an average of US$119 per month to each participating household, or $1,430 per year. This represents a significant cash income, considering that GDP per capita in Laos stands at about the same level (US$1,417).

The initiative has proven to be especially beneficial for local women, who comprise 98% of program participants. Land-poor households have been assisted by being prioritised in the allocation of newly developed market garden land. The program’s indirect effects are also significant, leading to the production of larger quantities and varieties of vegetables for local markets and contributing to improved nutrition for participating families. Socioeconomic survey data shows that the proportion of households reporting food shortages reduced between 2010 and 2012 by a factor of four.

Local vegetable sales 2009-2013 graph showing increase in sales from approximately 65,000 to 170,000 USD over the period 2009-2013Households reporting food shortages graph showing decrease over 2010-12 in reporting of food shortages by approximately 95-30% and 80-25% for Nam Gnone and Nam Mo respectively, comparing the years 2010 and 2012.

Source: 2012 Socio-economic survey, p. 41.

Regular meetings are held at which PanAust, the community and other key stakeholders monitor and review market gardening and microfinance data and outcomes in order to maximise opportunities to alleviate poverty through small business development.

This monitoring and review process has resulted in many program enhancements. For example, an analysis of company food supply requirements against local production capabilities identified several crops suitable for local production but for which local experience was lacking. Therefore, farmer training was organised to introduce several new varieties of vegetables (potatoes, carrots, tomatoes) not previously grown in the area.

The company has also adjusted to local capabilities. For example, the camp menu has been modified to use more seasonal local vegetables in place of imported produce. And locally grown mushrooms now feature on the menu more often, after villagers were trained in mushroom cultivation.

The lessons learned from the livelihood programs at the Phu Kham copper–gold operation are being incorporated elsewhere in PanAust’s operations. The combination of local vegetable procurement, agricultural training and village banking has been replicated at the Ban Houayxai gold–silver operation, and there is potential for replicating it at the company’s exploration sites in Laos and Chile.

From experience, the company and community recognise that through a combination of training, microfinance and the development of small business opportunities, broader outcomes such as food security and nutrition can be addressed hand-in-hand with livelihood development.

The combination of sustainability reporting guidelines and the ease of publishing through the internet is facilitating a revolution in the ability of mining companies to demonstrate their successes and challenges and to meet increasing community expectations for performance evaluation. For many community members, leading practice requires a comprehensive, up-to-date and transparent website with current online monitoring data. For specific projects, it is important to develop communication strategies which are technically appropriate and relevant to local community needs and expectations as well as cultural practices, especially in impoverished or indigenous communities, as described in the leading practice Community engagement and development handbook (DIIS 2016b).

Footnotes

3 http://www.mercuryconvention.org/.

4 http://riverhealth.org.au/.

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