Target: A biodiversity-friendly mining ‘from cradle to grave’

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is eyeing to close the mining-policy gaps to make the highly extractive industry ecologically sound and biodiversity-friendly “from cradle to grave.”

Director Theresa Mundita S. Lim of the DENR’s Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) said a review of existing policies aims to identify the gaps and come up with recommendations to enhance biodiversity protection and conservation efforts despite mining.

Environmental advocates oppose large-scale mining, particularly those that operate surface or open-pit mines, because they are destructive and threaten the extinction of unique flora and fauna.

“Right now, there’s an ongoing policy review on biodiversity and mining. Our previous assessments are being reviewed, but initially, there appears to be policy gaps that need to be addressed,” Lim told the BusinessMirror in a telephone interview.

According to Lim, the review is jointly being conducted at the technical level at the BMB and the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), which regulates the mining sector.

In the ensuing weeks, a meeting at the director level will be held, noting that the review was ordered by no less than Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu

The final output of the policy review, Lim said, would hopefully harmonize existing mining and biodiversity protection and conservation policies, either through a department administrative order (DAO) or an executive order (EO) in the short term and through acts of Congress, or a law, in the long term.

The biodiversity component, even the measures for its safeguard under Republic Act 7942, or the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, remained wanting, Lim added.

The official is referring to the environmental compliance certificate process and environmental impact assessment (EIA) system, a requirement under Presidential Decree 1856, or the EIA law.

“The policy is very general. Not specific [when on biodiversity]. For instance, in terms of flora and fauna, or even in marine ecosystems, the conditions are sometimes not specific. Even the checklist under EIA is not specific,” Lim added.

She noted that an EIA study should not be confined to the mining tenement, whether it is overlapping a declared protected area.

She said the EIA should determine the potential impact of mining to nearby ecosystems, such as forests, lakes, rivers, caves or coastal and marine areas.

She insisted that a thorough biodiversity assessment should be conducted to establish a baseline data of the species of plants and animals that may potentially lost in the area.

“The current policy [in conducting EIA study] focuses whether the mining site is within or outside a protected area. It should also consider if there’s a nearby important ecosystem that may be damaged, or biodiversity that may be lost as a result of mining operations,” she said.

She lamented that mining companies are sometimes reluctant to consider the impact of its operation to important ecosystems nearby or the conservation status of the plant and animal wildlife found in the would-be affected ecosystem.

“They should also consider, for instance, its impact on marine ecosystems. Are there corals that are unique to that area? Are there caves nearby? Is there an important ecosystem even if it is not within a protected area?” she added.

Globally, she said mainstreaming of biodiversity in development activities is already picking stride.

According to Lim, in the next Conference of Parties to be held in Egypt in November, there will be a global guideline on mainstreaming of biodiversity to ensure business continuity or sustainability.

“Hopefully, in the Philippines, instead of waiting for it [global guideline], we should start to consider biodiversity [in mining projects],” Lim said.

“We have a very limited space, yet it has a lot of resources that need to be protected or exploited in a sustainable manner,” she added.

According to Lim, the policy review should be able to find ways to strike a balance between environmental and biodiversity protection, on one hand, and exploitation of mineral resource on the other.

“The study should be comprehensive. A complete baseline information on biological resources, mineral resources and potential socioeconomic impact are needed to be able to strike a balance. That way, we can also identify possible trade-offs or set limits as to the level of development we can do without necessarily sacrificing biodiversity and intergenerational equity,” she said.

Lim explained that intergeneration equity means present and future generations should continue to benefit from whatever natural wealth there are to exploit, which goes beyond the current benchmark of gunning for social equity here and now.

“When you say there should be intergeneration equity, the present and future generation will have equal opportunity from the resources,” she said.

According to Lim, current talks between the BMB and the MGB are looking at possible areas for convergence.

Mining companies, she said, should work with the DENR through the MGB and BMB to prove that they are really committed to responsible mining.

“Since they are talking about responsible mining, then they should prove that there really is responsible mining. They have to work with us,” she pointed out.

According to Lim, the DENR-BMB can help during the conduct of progressive mine rehabilitation.

She added the MGB should start working on a tighter policy to ensure that the state—which owns the mineral resources being exploited—will not be on the losing end of the deal with mining companies.

“On the part of the BMB, the participation should be from cradle to grave to ensure that biodiversity is integrated in every aspect of mining operation,” she said.

It could be recalled that the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines, which represents the country’s big players in the mining industry, has affirmed its commitment to responsible mining with the adoption of Canada’s Toward Sustainable Mining Initiative and the Baguio Declaration.

Two of the country’s mining companies—Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corp. (RTNMC), a wholly owned subsidiary of Nickel Asia Corp., and OceanaGold Philippines recently gained recognition for bagging the top awards in the first Asian Minerals Awards.

RTNMC bagged the award in the Best Mineral Mining category, while OceanaGold won the top prize in the Mineral Processing category. The awards gave recognition to mining firms from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations that are following best practices.

Both award-winning mining companies boast of ecologically sound mining practices.

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