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.

Our evolving approach to biodiversity Our evolving approach to biodiversity
Mitchell Falls, Kimberley region, Western Australia

A pragmatic response

We've set a high bar for the industry with our approach to biodiversity. Since 2010, we’ve worked with International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and others to share our learnings with peers and partners who may be managing similar biodiversity challenges.

During 2016, we conducted joint presentations, webinars and discussions with our sites and NGOs, including past partners and other stakeholders, to outline these lessons and our new approach. As pioneers in applying NPI to mining operations, our experience has taught us about the challenges of NPI, but we have also had many successes. We are currently preparing a publication in collaboration with the IUCN to communicate these lessons.

These learnings are key to the next chapter in biodiversity management at Rio Tinto. We’ll use the lessons of the past 12 years to further help us minimise our biodiversity impacts in the future.


The mitigation
hierarchy

The mitigation
hierarchy

These four types of actions are integral to Rio Tinto’s approach to biodiversity:

These four types of actions are integral to Rio Tinto’s approach to biodiversity:

  • Avoidance: this fundamental principle of the mitigation hierarchy involves changing or stopping a normal course of action in the interest of biodiversity. For example, we might divert a haulage road around an area of conservation significance.
  • Minimisation: this is about reducing biodiversity impacts when they cannot be completely avoided. For example, vehicular speed limits on haulage roads, insulation of high voltage overhead infrastructure and exotic species introduction control measures.
  • Restoration: in this process, disturbed land is stabilised and revegetated with the aim of establishing a specific habitat type. For example, we might restore forest habitat, or create a biologically diverse area where there may previously have been land of low conservation significance.
  • Offset: conservation actions designed and implemented to address residual impacts with the goal to achieve at least a no net loss or net gain for biodiversity compared to a reference scenario which would likely have occurred in the absence of the project and offset. For example, securing the conservation of an area of similar or higher conservation value and habitat type, or similarly beneficial activities for additional conservation gains in the region in partnership with local stakeholders.

 

Image: The regent honeyeater (Anthochaera phrygia) was found breeding on a mine offset area, New South Wales, Australia

Key features of Rio Tinto’s approach to biodiversity

We’re adopting a site-based approach that aims to overcome the challenges in conserving biodiversity while balancing social and business imperatives.

The eight sites that have regulatory or lender-based NPI (or similar net gain) performance requirements for offsets or similar goals will continue to implement them as agreed. The two sites with voluntary offsets will review management practices for these sites in collaboration with relevant stakeholders.

Existing requirements

  • Assess biodiversity values, potential risks and impacts at existing and new operations
  • Those operations in high and very high biodiversity areas must develop biodiversity management plans in collaboration with local communities and conservation organisations

Increased focus

  • Diligently apply the mitigation hierarchy throughout the mine life cycle with a particular focus on avoidance, restoration and minimisation practices to minimise residual impacts on biodiversity
  • Incorporate biodiversity management requirements into environmental standards and audit protocols to monitor implementation and assure our performance

New requirements

  • Use external expertise and guidelines to guide our approach to the implementation of the mitigation hierarchy, especially where there are no regulatory framework or lender requirements
  • Continue to use biodiversity offsets when required by regulators, lenders and as otherwise stipulated by our soon-to-be revised management standards and procedures
  • Arrange for an independent review of practices and publicly report performance on sites that manage material risk to important biodiversity features
  • Protect biodiversity features and aid ecological processes on land that is outside of the planned mining area but under the operation’s control
  • Involve local communities in the design and implementation of biodiversity management wherever possible


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