By: C P Goyal
The mineral resource sector is crucial for the global economy and human development, contributing to all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement. It can advance several SDGs while hindering their achievement. With the world’s population expected to rise from 7.8 billion to 9.6 billion by 2050, the sector faces challenges in meeting increasing per capita consumption. Studies suggest a 100% increase in mining in protected areas between 2000 and 2019, which is expected to worsen with the energy transition and the need to mine rare earth metals, which release radioactive materials. Sustainable mining and mine closures are of utmost global importance.
Mining activities have led to the extraction of natural resources to balance energy demand and supply. However, this has led to deforestation, topsoil displacement, and garbage dumping, which negatively impact ecosystem services. Recent progress in rehabilitating mine-damaged lands is crucial for long-term management. Selective plantation and soil additives can improve recovery, benefiting mining businesses and the local community economically, socially, and environmentally. Research highlights the importance of plantation characteristics like stress tolerance, climatic resilience, and native to the local ecosystem. Restoring the ecosystem is essential to meet international policy objectives and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Impacts of Mining and Unplanned Mine Closures
Mining has significant environmental and societal impacts, including deforestation, habitat loss, and hazardous chemical pollution. It can also lead to social dislocation, economic changes, and climate change due to greenhouse gas emissions. Unplanned mine closures can cause environmental harm and social disruptions, such as water contamination and economic decline. Addressing these challenges requires responsible practices that prioritize sustainability, community well-being, and comprehensive closure plans. Although global regulations and legislation have been introduced, implementation varies greatly, especially in developing countries. Therefore, understanding these impacts is crucial for sustainable practices.
Sustainable Mine Restoration
Crafting sustainable mine restoration plans is crucial for mitigating mining and closure impacts on the environment and communities. Such plans encompass key elements to ensure effective rehabilitation of mined areas. Baseline assessments of pre-mining ecosystems are fundamental for informed decision-making. Goals, ecological and social, must align with local needs and conservation aims. Tailored implementation strategies encompass native species replanting, habitat reconstruction, and soil stabilization. Monitoring and adaptive management ensure progress and long-term success. Inclusive stakeholder engagement fosters support. Ultimately, these plans recognize the interplay between ecological health, community well-being, private sector involvement and environmental resilience, solidifying sustainability.
The India Story
The Ministry of Mines has implemented measures to promote sustainable mining in coal mines. The Mineral Conservation and Development Rules (MCDR) 2017 outline rules for reducing environmental impact and carbon footprint, including removal and utilization of top soil, storage of waste rock, and precautions against ground vibrations, surface subsidence, air pollution, toxic liquid discharge, noise, and flora restoration. The Indian Bureau of Mines has also introduced a system of Star Rating for evaluating sustainability footprints during mining operations. Under Rule 35 of MCDR 2017, every lessee is required to obtain a three-star rating since the start of operations. The Ministry encourages mining leases to generate and use green energy. A survey of 293 mines revealed a total installed renewable energy plant capacity of approximately 583 Megawatts, including both wind and solar power.
The Indian government and state authorities have taken several initiatives to promote sustainable mining practices. In 2020, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) ordered re-grassing in mined-out areas to make them suitable for flora and fauna growth. In 2014, the Karnataka state established the Karnataka Mining Environment Restoration Corporation (KMERC) to oversee the implementation of the Comprehensive Development Plan for Mining Impact Zones (CEPMIZ) in mine-affected districts. As many as 466 villages in four districts have been declared mine-affected, and the Supreme Court has approved an action plan costing Rs 24,996.71 crore for their development. NLC India is also establishing a 50 MW solar energy project in mine-reclaimed land in Neyveli, Tamil Nadu.
Importance of the G20
India’s G20 summit has launched the Gandhinagar Implementation Roadmap (GIR) and Gandhinagar Information Platform (GIP) to strengthen the G20 Global Land Initiative. The roadmap aims to enhance collaboration among participating countries to accelerate ecosystem restoration in mining-affected areas. The GIR-GIP will act as a bridge between global stakeholders and countries, providing strategic inputs on knowledge sharing, financial infusion, and technological aggregation. It will also create a standard on how global cooperative actions can enhance mining-based land restoration activities. The initiative aims to align mining industries with social, environmental, and economic sustainability guidelines.
The author is a DG Forest and Special Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate change