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.
A bold and idealistic plan
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.
The next chapter in biodiversity management
Dr Theresia Ott, principal adviser, Environment at Rio Tinto said the Group had learned a lot about how it could contribute to biodiversity, and had concluded that a corporate-wide commitment to NPI was not practical.
“Rio Tinto may be moving away from a corporate-wide commitment to NPI, but we remain proud of the enormous contributions that have been made in trying to reach this goal and the momentum it has created within the mining sector and beyond,” Theresia said.
“We’ve learned that allowing sites to tackle their own contexts on a case-by-case basis, through an integrated approach to biodiversity management, is more practical and viable in the long run than applying a blanket NPI target across all of our operations.
“We remain committed to working with our stakeholders to overcome the challenges we faced in pursuing NPI and advancing improved integrated biodiversity management performance across all of our sites,” she said.
While this means we are moving away from our corporate-wide NPI commitment, we will continue to use the mitigation hierarchy to minimise our residual impacts and, at some sites, this may result in a net gain for biodiversity.
We’re now moving towards an integrated site-level approach that focuses on effectively applying the mitigation hierarchy (avoidance, minimisation, restoration, and offsets where appropriate) in a way that considers the specific environmental and regulatory context, and the needs of local communities within the wider landscape.
To help our teams on the ground, we’re improving our operating standards, guidance materials and procedures. And to provide an additional level of assurance, all new biodiversity management plans will be reviewed by external experts.