On the occasion of the International Day for Biological Diversity (IDB) which was held on 22 May 2013, the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa launched the Mining and Biodiversity Guideline: Mainstreaming biodiversity into the mining sector,
in Kirstenbosch, Cape Town. The South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) also handed over the Life: State of South Africa's Biodiversity Report to the Minister.
The Life: State of South Africa's Biodiversity Report, which was handed over to the Minister at the event, resonates well with the IDB as it demonstrates the culmination of years of science in assessing our biological resources and highlighting the status of our resources in the country.
The Report assesses South Africa's ecosystems and species, and is a summary of the more detailed National Biodiversity Assessment. It covers terrestrial, river, wetland, estuarine, coastal and marine environments; as well as areas important for climate change resilience. Species of special concern as well as invasive alien species are also covered in the Report.
South Africa is globally renowned as a mega diverse country, harbouring an exceptional number of species of various fauna and flora. This rich biodiversity and ecological infrastructure underpin and support the country's social and economic development in numerous direct and indirect ways. In addition, South Africa's mining industry also plays a vital role in the growth and development of the country and its economy and tends to have an impact on the country's biodiversity in ways that are not sustainable.
The Constitution of South Africa recognises the vital role of both ecological and mineral resources in a development path and that these are not necessarily opposing objectives. As such this guideline has been developed to facilitate the sustainable development of South Africa's mineral resources in a manner that enables regulators, industry and practitioners to minimise the impact of mining on the country's biodiversity and ecosystem services.
The Mining and Biodiversity Guideline: Mainstreaming biodiversity into the mining sector provides direction on how to avoid, minimise or remedy mining impacts as part of a thorough environmental impact assessment and robust environmental management programme. The guideline is a practical, user-friendly manual for integrating biodiversity considerations into the decision making and planning processes of mining.
As such, the guideline establishes a four step mitigation hierarchy aimed at encouraging proactive planning that would firstly avoid disturbance of ecosystems and loss of biodiversity as a first approach. Secondly, in cases where loss of biodiversity cannot be avoided, the mitigation hierarchy encourages finding alternative methods in mining that would minimise the impact on biodiversity and ecosystem services.
Thirdly, the mitigation hierarchy makes reference to the importance of rehabilitating those areas where biodiversity loss were unavoidable and could not be minimised and finally, the mitigation hierarchy encourages biodiversity offsets as a last resort. Biodiversity offsets are aimed at compensating for the residual negative effects on biodiversity after every effort has been made to minimise and then rehabilitate impacts.
“We have indeed reached a momentous stage in our country’s development, where sectors originally perceived to have competing mandates, have realised the common vision of growth and prosperity for our country, and are beginning to walk this path towards sustainability together”, said Minister Molewa.
The guideline does not seek to exempt the user from complying with the relevant pieces of legislation and should be used as a guide only. The guideline offers the user six principles that should be applied towards good decision making when addressing biodiversity issues and impacts in a mining context.
The principles include applying the law, using the best available biodiversity information, engaging all relevant stakeholders thoroughly and using the best practice environmental impact assessment to identify, assess and evaluate impacts on biodiversity.
Hence, the guideline is aimed primarily at environmental, exploration, project and mine managers, environmental assessment practitioners, officials of the Departments of Environmental Affairs, Mineral Resources and Water Affairs and conservation authorities. As such, the guideline seeks to improve consistency in dealing with biodiversity issues related to mining.
Good environmental management at mining operations located in areas of high biodiversity value can provide opportunities that achieve biodiversity conservation goals without incurring economic costs, and can generate benefits for people and enterprises. It is hoped that this guideline will foster a strong relationship between biodiversity and mining which will eventually translate into best practice within the mining sector.
It is envisaged that the LIFE: State of South Africa’s Biodiversity Report will assist South Africa in making better decisions about how it uses, manages and invests in its biodiversity, across its land and waters, for the benefit for all South Africans. It captures the essence of an inheritance which is critical to South Africa's future sustainability, promotes awareness and appreciation of the nation's exceptional biodiversity assess, and is also intended to inspire participation in the sector, especially among the country's youth.