Mining and biodiversity – strange bedfellows?

Last week, I read an article in the Guardian Weekly about rare earths in Greenland, and the impending pressure from mining and exploration. This made an impression on me for a number of reasons.

Greenland is an overseas territory of a European Union (EU) Member State – Denmark – and IUCN Europe is managing the EU Outermost Regions and Overseas Countries and Territories Programme. We have a website with lots of information about overseas territories, and you will be surprised to know how many places on the globe still fall under European jurisdiction. Did you know that Greenland is not only the largest island in the world, but is also home to the largest national park in the world?

I spoke in a session in the European Parliament last year about mining of rare earths on Greenland, and I explained that my concern is not that Greenland wishes to develop its potential in mineral resources, as that is the prerogative of the national government. Economic development is a good thing, but IUCN’s concern is that this is done in a proper manner, using nature-based solutions as well as traditional infrastructure development. My personal concern is that a country which has had little exposure (literally, as it was under the polar ice) to the pressures of large-scale mining industry may cut environmental protection corners and aim for fast returns instead of long-term sustainability. We will do all we can to help the Government of Greenland to make the right decisions.

This brings me to the other issue that came to my mind, and that is the question about biodiversity impact of mining in general. There will be at least one workshop about this during the IUCN Congress, so check out the details, if you are interested under event #Forum0006.

There is a vivid discussion going on within IUCN about No Net Loss of biodiversity and Net Positive Impact on biodiversity of industrial activities. There is a workshop during the IUCN Congress about this on Sunday 9 september (#forum0396). This includes debates about the conditions required for delivering positive outcomes to conservation through Biodiversity Offsets, if at all possible.

The independent Business and Biodiversity Programme (BBOP) has defined principles, collected case studies and created a series of resources, but IUCN’s science community is not convinced that we know enough to be able to support the concept as an effective conservation tool.  It is one of the issues that will be debated at the IUCN Congress in Jeju, Korea next month, to clarify the knowledge gaps, consensus areas and fracture points around this topic. I hope we will agree on a way forward, given the fact that some Governments and the business community are already implementing schemes around the mitigation hierarchy and biodiversity offsets.

An interesting point is that the European Commission has created a working group on No Net Loss, and we participate in the group’s discussions. Advising the European Commission is one of the key roles of IUCN in Europe, and it is in my mind the main reason for having an office in Brussels. So – I really hope that the IUCN Congress manages to come to a conclusion on this topic, so we can advise the Commission accordingly!

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