Minerals industry pledges to protect biodiversity

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As industry was showcasing rehabilitated quarry and mine sites on European Minerals Day (15-17 May) and arguing that mining can actually create new habitats, the European Commission was underlining that protecting biodiversity begins with preventing and reducing the damage caused by mining in the first place.

The 2009 European Minerals Day paid special attention to biodiversity protection, inviting people to visit rehabilitated quarry and mine sites across Europe, listen to presentations on nature protection projects and learn more about the role of minerals in everyday life.

“Minerals are all around us,” said Thierry Salmona, president of the European Industrial Minerals Association (IMA-Europe), pointing out that “70% of manufacturing’s added value in Europe depends on minerals”. 

According to the association, mobile phones contain over forty raw materials and PCs sixty; a car has up to 150 kg of minerals; one kilometre of motorway requires 30,000 tons of them and glass is 100% mineral. Examples of minerals include calcium carbonate, lime, feldspar, wollastonite, clay, kaolin, talc, silica, borate and dolomite.

Whilst industrial minerals play a crucial role in providing products that meet the needs of today’s society, the manner in which they are extracted from the earth damages the environment and can lead to biodiversity loss in mining and surrounding areas.

But Salmoina argued that “mining projects can be beneficial for biodiversity and create new habitats”. And if the mining projects harm biodiversity, “we offset the damage by countermeasures,” he claimed. 

Sebastian Winkler, head of Countdown 2010, an NGO which works to halt biodiversity loss, said “the mining sector can create green corrdiors” for species to move and migrate, in particular in view of climate change-induced habitat fragmentation. “There can also be more biodiversity in the mining area after the activity,” Winkler added. 

Fotios Papoulias, nature and biodiversity policy officer at the  Commission’s environment department, said that while restoration projects and initiatives are good, “our approach should be to prevent damage at first place and reduce impacts on the spot,” and only after considering restoration. 

Regarding the EU’s priorities on biodiversity, Papoulias said the Commission would focus on completing the Natura 2000 network and ensuring its effective management. “It also becomes clear that we need to facilitate business engagement in biodiversity issues,” he added. Indeed, the EU executive has launched a call for a specific ‘Business & Biodiversity’ initiative.

The web-based platform will aim to better engage the business community in biodiversity by developing sectoral guidance documents on business involvement and tools to measure the different biodiversity impacts and benefits of various sectors of activity. This is “not corporate greenwashm but honest collaboration,” the Commission underlined.

“We also need to integrate biodiversity explicitly in EU and domestic policies and embrace an ‘ecosystem approach’ to maintain the value of nature’s services,” Papoulias said.

The objective of the European Commission's 2005 strategy on the 'Sustainable Use of Natural Resources in Europe' is to reduce the environmental impact of resource use in the growing world economy. It focuses on the environmental impacts of using resources, which "will be a decisive factor in helping the EU achieve sustainable development". The startegy includes the use of minerals: reducing their impact, recycling and improving re-use to "do more with less". 

In November 2008, the Commission launched a Raw Materials Initiative with three pillars, one of which is resource efficiency, recycling, substitution and increased use of renewable raw materials to ease "the critical dependence of the EU on primary raw materials, reduce import dependency and improve the environmental balance, as well as meeting industrial needs for raw materials". 

  • By June 2009: Commission to publish a guidance document for non-energy extracting industries (NEEI) on the implementation of the Natura 2000 Habitats Directive. It will focus on assessing impacts of extraction projects affecting Natura 2000.

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