The Application of Sustainable Development Principles in the Minerals Industry: Examples of Best-Practice

Prof. Jeremy Richards
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Extraction of non-renewable mineral resources has short- and long-term impacts on the environment and society, but at the same time provides the very fabric of modern society and underpins economic growth. Life without metals for construction, transport, or power transmission is inconceivable for most of us. Yet the minerals industry faces significant resistance to its activities worldwide, both at the grass-roots level (e.g., inhabitants of areas where resource extraction is taking place) and from national and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Objections to its activities focus on either or both of anticipated negative environmental or social impacts from mining operations, as well as concerns (commonly lawsuits) relating to actual past or present impacts.

Over the last 30 years, the minerals industry and politicians have come to realize that the concerns raised by such groups cannot simply be dismissed or solved by remediation or compensation, and that a pro-active approach is required to prevent negative impacts, or more realistically to ensure that the net effects of mineral extraction are positive for all stakeholders and for the environment. These approaches embrace the definition of sustainable development as laid out in the 1987 Brundtland Report. This definition recognizes that any form of development, or even life, has an impact on the environment and other ecosystems, but that those impacts must be sustainable (i.e., must not exceed the natural environment’s capacity to absorb change) and must not disadvantage future generations, both of humans as well as other life-forms.

I will discuss several examples of both positive and negative impacts of the minerals industry on society and the environment, focusing on examples of best-practice in the modern minerals industry.

Keywords: Sustainable Development, Non-renewable Mineral Resources, Mining Industry, Environmental Impacts, Social Impacts, Non-governmental Organizations, Best-Practice
Stream: Natural, Environmental and Health Sciences
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Application of Sustainable Development Principles in the Minerals Industry, The

Prof. Jeremy Richards

Professor, Dept. Earth & Atmospheric Sciences, University of Alberta

My research interests and activity are divided between study of the genesis of hydrothermal mineral deposits (especially of copper and gold), and an examination of sustainable development issues within the minerals industry, and implications for wider society. It is the latter topic on which I wish to speak at this conference. I have been involved with several studies of active and past mining operations, designed to assess their impacts on, or potential for, sustainable development. Although primarily a natural scientist with funding from Canada’s Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, I also hold a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for a study of the use of fiscal instruments (taxes, royalties) in promoting sustainable extraction, use, consumption, and recycling of non-renewable mineral resources.

Ref: I06P0024