International principles and standards for the ecological restoration and recovery of mine sites

Renee E. Young, George D. Gann, Bethanie Walder, Junguo Liu, Wenhui Cui, Vern Newton, Cara R. Nelson, Natalie Tashe, David Jasper, Fernando A.O. Silveira, Peter J. Carrick, Tove Hägglund, Sara Carlsén, Kingsley Dixon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Mining has been, and remains, an integral part of human existence from Stone Age quarries through to the iron and coal that fueled the industrial revolution, to the new materials needed to support the shift to renewable energy. Mining and mining products are major contributors to national economies with mining value tripling in the past two decades. As of 2020, the global mining footprint was 57,000 km2 and growing at a faster rate now than any other time in human history. Much of this footprint is operational, but in many areas where mining is now complete, the sites represent major environmental liabilities. Although site stabilization and managing waste materials remains a challenging part of mine closure in many parts of the world, the environmental liability of these sites means more than being just safe, stable, and nonpolluting, with companies increasingly expected to restore ecosystems that are representative of their pre-mined (natural) state. The International Principles and Standards for the Ecological Restoration and Recovery of Mine Sites (Mine Site Restoration Standards, MSRS) present the first international framework for the delivery of socially and environmentally responsible ecological restoration after mining, regardless of whether restoration is legally mandated. The MSRS are designed to inspire and drive higher and better outcomes in post-mining landscapes by both guiding and encouraging the highest level of restoration achievable that supports the global need for protecting and restoring nature. This comes at a time of unparalleled global human impacts where climate change, land degradation, and biodiversity loss threaten the very ecological fabric of the planet. Mining companies are a major global player in local and regional economies and by demonstrating leadership in protecting, enhancing, and restoring the environments in which they operate, they can maintain, and enhance their social license to operate. The MSRS aim to provide a framework for the mining industry, governments, and stakeholders, including Indigenous peoples and local communities, to address mining-specific issues in delivering effective restoration of mine sites. The MSRS emphasize that achieving the highest possible ecological outcomes depends upon ingenuity, knowledge investment, and a supportive corporate ethos to build a culture of continuous improvement. This approach will maximize benefits for local communities, the environment, and ultimately the mining industry. For industry, the MSRS provide a framework that can be utilized to optimize restoration outcomes that will leave a positive legacy long after mining has ceased. Early adoption of the MSRS by industry can reduce environmental, financial, and corporate risk in achieving site relinquishment by demonstrating the highest possible commitment to stakeholders, increasing natural capital, responding to climate change and, recovering biodiversity, including threatened and culturally significant species. The agreed-upon post-mining land use (PMLU), in some cases, is the same general land use that was present prior to disturbance, which often includes fully functioning intact native ecosystems. In other cases, the PMLU may be different from the pre-mining condition. Regardless, the potential for ecological restoration should not be invoked as a justification for destroying or damaging existing native ecosystems. When native ecosystems are impacted by mining, full recovery informed by reference models should be the target. Where this is not achievable a “recovery gap” between the initial native ecosystem and the post-mining ecosystem is created. In highly man-altered landscapes, processes and approaches to mine site restoration may require local solutions but should be undertaken within the Principles of these Standards. When followed, the MSRS can help limit the recovery gap, and where possible (e.g., if mining is implemented in an ecosystem that had previously been highly degraded by other activities), close that gap and move toward net ecological gain. The Standards are underpinned by eight principles that provide a framework to enable restoration decisions that are evidence-based, resilient, and acceptable to mining companies, communities, and stakeholders. They are: Engage stakeholders throughout the life of mine. Draw on many types of knowledge. Be informed by reference ecosystems, while considering environmental change. Support ecosystem recovery processes. Assess against clear goals and objectives, using measurable indicators. Seek the highest level of recovery attainable. Gain cumulative value when applied at large scales. Employ a continuum of restorative activities. The MSRS recommend not just best practice, but future practice that harnesses the unique investment and technical capacity of the mining industry and applies it toward the most restorative post-mining practices possible. These Standards align with the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, The Mitigation Hierarchy, and international best practice in ecological restoration. They build on the International Principles and Standards for the Practice of Ecological Restoration with key concepts customized to meet the unique challenges of global mining. The MSRS represent a living document that will evolve and develop as technological ability, community and environmental expectations, and understanding of mine site restoration changes over time.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere13771
JournalRestoration Ecology
Volume30
Issue numberS2
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 2022

Keywords

  • mine closure
  • mine site restoration
  • mining
  • rehabilitation
  • social license
  • trajectory

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