We know that knowledge of rehabilitation techniques, both operational and for abandoned sites, is extensive.
We know that knowledge of rehabilitation techniques, both operational and for abandoned sites, is extensive. It is the lack of clear legal and financing mechanisms and the lack of the willingness on the part of industry, governments and communities to form mutually beneficial partnerships that is holding back action and delaying remediation. More fundamentally, there is a lack of systematic inventory, meaning that the problem is not sufficiently described for it to become politically important. Experience with contaminated sites has also shown that a systematic approach to this issue is protracted, expensive to manage and dependent on considerable technical expertise within the administration.
Nevertheless, there are now initiatives, mostly in developed countries, and there is some momentum to start sharing experiences. Governments have reacted more effectively in preventing current mines from becoming “abandoned sites”. For example, in Japan where a national survey found 5,500 abandoned mines, the government has adopted a two-pronged approach to the problem. Where original owners exist, they remain responsible for the safety of the mine and the prevention of all pollution. Where the original owner cannot be found, or in case of bankruptcy, local and national governments tackle the problem jointly (1). In other countries, some governments apply rehabilitation regulations and fiscal mechanisms to current operators.
Some of these experiences, including the setting of performance targets, will be useful in addressing the orphan sites issue. At the same time, industry’s approach to environment has become more comprehensive and mature and presents some new options for cooperative approaches. Refinement of formal environmental management systems and tools such as ISO 14000,
Environmental Impact Assessment and environmental accounting have made environmental programs a part of mainstream corporate management. There has also been a move towards more life-cycle oriented approaches, with supply-chain management and extended producer responsibility now being taken more seriously by larger companies. The recent acceptance by industry of the need for some voluntary measures and codes on environment to complement government regulation has resulted in action on a range of matters that have not so far been regulated.
Consideration of these and other approaches needs to be applied to abandoned sites. Industry is also becoming more involved in the global and national policy debates on sustainable development. Through various environmental codes, business charters and other commitments, companies are now more conscious of the need to address social issues, to adopt ethical positions, and to acknowledge that sustainable development is about values as much as about economics. Their commitment to sustainable mineral development now needs to be applied practically.
(1) Information from two papers presented by Metal Mining Agency of Japan at the 3rd Asia Pacific Training Workshop on Hazardous Waste Management on Mining, Beijing, China, September 2000.
Some Issues and Trends Currently Affecting Options in Rehabilitation
UNEP and Chilean Copper Commission, June 2001.