Biodiversity

Biodiversity

Much more than just a way to describe the variety of life on Earth, biological diversity pivotal to the environmental processes on which people depend. It plays a role in providing us with the fresh air, water and fertile soils we need. Each feature of an ecosystem adds resilience to these processes, so that as biodiversity is lost, systems become less capable to withstand extreme events or disruptions and provide the goods and services on which people rely.

It is not possible to extract mineral resources essential to modern life without impacting the natural world. But, by adjusting the way we develop, build, operate and close our mines, mining companies can make a large difference to the ultimate impact we have on ecosystems and biodiversity. We recognise that addressing biodiversity well is a vital element in retaining our licence to operate.

In 2004, Rio Tinto committed to achieving a "net positive impact" (NPI) on biodiversity across all our operations – meaning that our activities should ultimately affect a measurable, positive change to biodiversity. The commitment was ambitious and well-intentioned. However, it was made without a full understanding of the challenges we would face at our sites.

 

biodiversity biodiversity

Lessons learned

Having concluded that setting a Group-wide net positive commitment for biodiversity was impractical, we are now taking a more targeted and collaborative approach. To develop our new biodiversity protection and natural resource management standard – being introduced in 2018 – we sought external input from partners including BirdLife International, IUCN, and Fauna & Flora International.

The standard seeks to minimise our impact by balancing conservation needs with development priorities through four key actions. Our first priority is to avoid having an impact, after which we seek to minimise, restore, and finally offset those impacts that do arise.

This more realistic – and effective – approach helps our operations tackle their impacts in the way best suited to the local situation. It allows them to consider natural resource needs and the livelihoods of local people, and encourages partnership working with the host community.

Our biodiversity standard in action

Our approach may evolve, but our commitment to avoid and minimise biodiversity loss and land disturbance, while improving our biodiversity management practices is unchanged. In Australia, our work to protect the endangered northern quoll reflects this. In partnership with local organisations, such as the Western Australia Department of Parks and Wildlife, we are targeting the feral cats that are having a damaging effect on the northern quoll population. This is just one example of many initiatives where we take responsibility for monitoring threatened species that live on the land we lease for our operations and collaborate with local organisations and wildlife authorities to protect biodiversity.

Protecting biodiversity is the right thing to do from a conservation perspective, but also goes hand in hand with ensuring responsible management of natural resources on which local communities rely. This is why the new standard captures both aspects and encourages a more integrated approach between community and social performance and environmental management. It is early days for this standard, but we have a rich experience to build on and as we roll it out, we will continue improving our understanding of the biodiversity issues at each site, and working with local partners, find the best way to mitigate our impact, sharing as we go.