Biodiversity considerations are relevant throughout the mining life cycle – from discovery or reconnaissance, to exploration or prospecting, development and production, and finally to decommissioning and closure. Authorisations are required at various stages of the exploration or exploitation of mineral resources.
From a business risk perspective, it is optimal to identify biodiversity constraints for project development early in the mining life cycle. The costs of fixing problems or retrofitting solutions during operational stages are inevitably greater than avoiding or preventing those problems through early detection.
Mining companies are generally aware of the possible obstacle that areas of high biodiversity value can pose to mining projects, but even in cases where direct biodiversity risks are assessed, there is often a failure to fully consider the interdependencies between mining, biodiversity and society in the assessment of impacts. This can result in a failure to identify significant risks associated with a proposed mining project because impacts on biodiversity affect a range of ecosystem services, which translate into implications for human well-being (livelihoods, safety, security and health).
The identification of these impacts at an early stage – based on proper consideration of biodiversity information – can streamline decisions about where, or where not, to develop mines, as well as about how to develop them. It is becoming good business practice to incorporate appropriate scientific methodologies that encompass all levels of assessment of impact on biodiversity and ecosystem services, stakeholder engagement, and comprehensive economic valuation of the affected areas into business decision-making. This is not least because early assessment of biodiversity impacts helps to:
- Reduce risk to biodiversity if appropriate mitigation action is taken.
- Avoid delay in authorisations, and reduce delays caused by appeals.
- Reduce risk to the company by avoiding reputational damage and unexpected costs, and/or difficulty in accessing finance.
- Obtain ‘buy-in’ from local communities (or a ‘social licence to operate’).
- Reduce risk to society of deteriorating ecosystem services and loss of biodiversity, from local to national scale, over the short, medium and long term.