The set of 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provides a comprehensive vision and framework for all the sectors of human intervention pertaining to the dimensions of social equity, environmental sustainability and economic development. Mining is one such leading sector which needs to incorporate the SDGs to be in the path of sustainable development. And, at the same time mining has the potential to contribute in realizing SDGs across other sectors.
Nevertheless, mining, if not practised well, can create negative impact on these inter-connected goals. Hence, there is a requirement of increased understanding of how mining and the SDGs are correlated with each other. Further, in this age of SDGs, recognizing the opportunities and challenges the goals offer to the mining industry should be comprehended by the mining practitioners and key stakeholder groups. This age-old activity of mining is acquiring new dynamism, facets, issues and relevance in the context of SDGs.
Minerals being valuable natural resources, mining has played a critical role in industrial and economic development of many mineral-rich countries. Also, it is undeniably one of the major activities that detrimentally affect environment and communities. Its adverse impact on water resources, air quality, forest resources, wildlife, soil quality, social fabric and local economy can never be underestimated. Thus every mineral-bearing area is positioned to deal with the vicious triangle of environmental, economic and social impacts of mining activities.
Almost all stages of mining, be it exploration, development, extraction, beneficiation and tailing disposal, affect environment. The exploration stage entails clearance of extensive areas of vegetation. Construction of access roads and preparation of site, those form the development phase, may disturb ecology of characteristically remote areas of mining. Extraction of mineral through open-pit mining requires removal of indigenously vegetated areas, thus causing severe destruction to environment.
Though underground mining is not as much environmentally-damaging, it is more expensive and involves bigger risk. Ordinary soil and waste rock, that contain toxic substances, are removed to allow entry to ore deposit. These soil and rock, if not disposed properly, later create soil and water pollution. Engagement of heavy equipment and machinery in the process of extraction leads to noise and emission of dust. The process of beneficiation, used to separate metal from non-metallic materials, releases several harmful contaminants.
Large quantity of waste called tailings generated from beneficiation process is generally toxic and causes most evil environmental consequences. Water resources are severely affected by mining activities in terms of quality and quantity. Both surface and groundwater adjacent to mining area is prone to contamination and lose their natural properties. Contaminated water remains neither fit for human consumption nor suitable for animals, plants and aquatic life. Emission of dust, suspended particle and hazardous gases as outcome of mining process leads to air pollution.
They bring about serious effects to people’s health and to the environment. Mining produces direct and indirect destruction to wildlife. Disturbance in local ecosystem and loss of habitat damage several species.
Though mining sector provides jobs and capital, it also disturbs local and traditional economic order if necessary care is not taken. Degradation of agricultural land and grazing land directly hampers the livelihood of farmers who are dependent on farming and livestock rearing. They form a major portion of rural population.
Forest dwellers affected by mining are prevented from accessing natural resources their livelihood depends upon. And, the mining industries that cause displacement add to the woes of local inhabitants. Adverse impact of mining on health of local people renders them unfit to carry out any earning activity. All these weaken the household financial situation and disintegrate the community-level economic system.
So many controversial and complex social issues crop up because of mining projects. Mining sector operates mostly in areas inhabited by indigenous and tribal people. As they have strong cultural and emotional link with their land, compulsory eviction and resettlement brought about by mining never goes well with them. Influx of migrant people into mining areas sometimes creates disputes between them and original inhabitants. Contamination of water, air and soil leads to negative impacts on public health and livelihood.
Impact of mining is not gender-neutral as women get more victimized by its negative effects and get less compensation than men. Instances of conflicts in communities and families, created often by unequal compensation or benefits received by the members from mining industries, are there.
As mineral resources play an important role in industrial and economic development, mining activities are required to be carried out, but with care so that their disturbing characteristic is minimized to the least. A balance must be strived while conducting mining for environmental, economic and social sustainability. Conscious effort must be put to minimize negative impact and maximize positive impact of mining.
Noteworthy to mention, mining companies have embarked upon lots of social development activities under their CSR initiative, and are contributing significantly to District Mineral Fund (DMF). However, as reported in most cases, CSR by mining industries is carried out without understanding the entire dimension of mining impacts. And, on the other hand, their financial contribution to DMF generally remains unused or misused for which their accountability gets minimized once they part with the donation amount.
In order to enhance their performance vis-à-vis sustainable development, it is recommended that mining companies adopt a Sustainable Development Framework (SDF) within which they can operate responsibly and sustainably. SDF of a mining operation must be specifically designed to fit into its local context. It should take special measures to address local biodiversity and socio-economic concerns, and aim for restoration of community and ecological balance.
The most popular working definition for Sustainable Development in the mining sector must come in aid in prioritizing the issues while designing SDF: “Mining that is financially viable; socially responsible; environmentally, technically and scientifically sound; with a long term view of development; uses mineral resources optimally; and, ensures sustainable post-closure land uses. Also one based on creating long-term, genuine, mutually beneficial partnerships between government, communities and miners, based on integrity, cooperation and transparency.”
To improve its positive effects and alleviate its negative effects through a robust SDF, mining industry must use safe methods, extract responsibly, produce with minimum waste, maintain energy efficiency and develop social capital throughout the mining life cycle. Further, CSR as a means for shaping attitude and strategies for stakeholder engagement can be designed by mining companies towards the goal of sustainability.
By adopting SDF mining companies can align their operations with the SDGs and realize enormous opportunities they hold for positively contributing to the SDGs, and minimizing their negative impacts. Mining sector generates employment and business, thus leading to economic growth. Minerals and metals produced through mining are used directly for infrastructure, technologies, energy management and agriculture; and used indirectly for livelihood generation, education, healthcare, water & sanitation, creation of sustainable cities, promoting innovation, etc. Scope and possible impact of mining across some SDGs is analyzed briefly here.
SDG 1: End poverty
Mining has the scope to provide jobs which facilitate eradication of poverty. It also creates revenues through taxes, royalties and dividends for governments to invest in poverty elimination. In order to create more positive impact the responsibility should be to facilitate equitable and inclusive access to employment opportunities; develop local supplier capacity; and strengthen local chains.
SDG 2: End hunger, and achieve food & nutrition security through sustainable agriculture
Mining activities must refrain from polluting soil and water, the primary requirement for agriculture. Mining companies can provide infrastructural support to local farmers.
SDG 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being
By engaging safe procedure and harmless technologies, mining should ensure occupational health and safety. Release of toxic emission to the environment must be checked for ensuring sound community health. Mining companies need to act against epidemic outbreak.
SDG 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education
Mining companies can contribute significantly towards inclusive education by providing educational infrastructure in their localities where level of education is very poor. They can assess and fill the local skill gap through skill training, and create livelihood opportunities beyond mining.
SDG 5: Achieve gender equality and empower women and girls
Mining industries should be gender-sensitive in recruitment, payment of remuneration, and career growth. Equal opportunities for women must be kept up. While conducting stakeholder dialogues, women should be given equal opportunities as given to men. Need assessment of local women and girls must be given priority while designing CSR programmes of mining companies.
SDG 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation
Conservation, recycling and reusing of water by mining industries is the need of the hour. Upholding water management policies of government is necessary. Quality of water for agriculture as well as drinking must be monitored regularly.
SDG 7: Ensure access to affordable and sustainable energy
Maintaining energy efficiency throughout the mining operation stipulates utmost importance. Renewable energy options must be utilized. Energy demand onsite should be reduced optimally. Polluting energy sources are required to be avoided. Mining companies should conduct energy audits regularly.
SDG 8: Decent work and economic growth
Mining drives economic growth locally and subsequently globally by providing jobs and business opportunities. Mining companies can provide training and decent jobs to local youth. Local procurement ought to be encouraged and supported.
SDG 9: Infrastructure, Industrialization & Innovation
Infrastructure of mining companies can be shared with government agencies for common welfare. Mining industry should foster the spirit of innovation across their supply chain and aid in creation of local infrastructure.
SDG 12: Sustainable consumption and production
The system of minimum use of resources like water, land and energy, and their reuse and recycling must be incorporated into everyday operation of mining. This also leads to less production of waste.
SDG 13: Combat climate change
In this time of rapid climate change, mining industry should take proactive action to deal with it by recognizing climate change in planning and investment, reducing emissions and developing climate change resilience.
SDG 15: Protect and promote life on land
Adverse impact of mining on ecosystem and critical habitats must be diminished through continuous assessment and action. Mining companies should lead in engaging communities for biodiversity preservation.
SDG 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies
Mining industries play a major role in bringing marginalized people into socio-economic mainstream. However, possible conflict with communities and other stakeholder groups ought to be avoided by regular dialogues with them. It helps in obtaining social legitimacy for mining houses. Also, adequate care should be taken to ensure protection of human rights.
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