Sustainable mining
Driving Force for the European Future Development for the European Future Development
2nd December 2014
Permanent Representation of Finland to the EU
Avenue de Cortenbergh 80, 1000 Brussels

This seminar will address the role of the mining industry in the development of sustainable societies. It will aim to gather European level stakeholders, consisting of key policy-makers, such as European and national authorities and academic as well as industry representatives, to discuss with high-level expert researchers from the Barents region about the latest developments of the mining industry and challenges related to sustainable mining.

The mining industry has become one of the major industries throughout the Barents region. It is playing a pivotal role in breaking the tendency of declining economies in peripheral regions suffering from depopulation and negative demographic changes. At the same time, there are concerns related to the preservation of the unique and sensitive nature, which plays an important role as a source of livelihood for the population living in the region; indigenous reindeer herders, tourism industry, business depending on clean nature re-production as well nature conservation etc. Furthermore, the life-cycle of mines and their impact to sustainable development is yet another concern.

Community interaction and involvement have become increasingly important for mining companies, these relations concerning a large number of issues such as public opinion, interaction with stakeholder groups, employment opportunities, environmental compliance, etc. To develop appropriate social assessment tools and subsequent policy instruments for sustainable mining, it is necessary to assess the public opinion, including all major stakeholders, and to find out what are the main concerns, needs and expectations with regard to mining operations.

One of the main tools for predicting and managing risks concerning the physical environment is the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). The environmental permit system will be clarified by eliminating overlap in land use planning, assessment of environmental impact and environmental permit procedures where possible, without undermining a good level of environmental protection and citizens’ ability to influence decisions. The latest EIA includes Social Impact Assessment (SIA), which is an assessment of effects on health, living conditions and wellbeing. The results are then implemented as a practical policy instrument to earn a social licence.

A social license is needed for example when mining companies apply funding from financial institutions. Gaining of a social license includes at least three levels: social legitimacy, credibility, and trust. Social legitimacy is based on established norms, norms of the community, that may be legal, social, cultural and both formal and in formal in nature. Mining companies must be aware and understand the norms of the community and be able to collaborate with them, as they represent the local ‘rules of the game’. Failure to do so risks rejection. In practice, the initial basis for social legitimacy comes from engagement with members of the local community and providing information on the project, the mining company and what may happen in the future. The capacity to be credible is largely based on providing consistent, factually correct and clear information and by complying with commitments made to the community.

Credibility is often best established and maintained through the application of formal agreements where the rules, roles and responsibilities of the mining company and the community are negotiated, defined and consolidated. Such framework helps to manage expectations. Also environmental regulations set limits for mining companies in how they can operate in the community. Thus, failures in following environmental standards may decrease credibility of mining companies. Trust, or the willingness to be vulnerable to the actions of another, is a relationship that requires both time and effort to create. True trust comes from shared experiences. The challenge for mining companies is to go beyond transactions with the community and create opportunities to collaborate, work together and generate the shared experiences within which trust can grow.

The mining industry without any doubt has become one of the major industries in the ENPI Kolarctic CBC program area. Good practises for public-private-collaboration are needed as well identifying regulations which are setting the framework for the operations of the mining industry. The balance between different needs and desires should be identified and maintained. The mining industry itself, local inhabitants, administration and other local businesses are lacking recommendations on how to organise their interaction during the whole life-cycle of a mine.

The mix of similarities and differences regarding nature, regional economics, indigenous affairs and institutional structures in the European North provides a fertile ground for comparative studies, and formed the basis on which “Sustainable Mining, local communities and environmental regulation in Kolarctic area (SUMILCERE)” was initiated. Multidisciplinary and transnational research network from four countries studied good practices and developed recommendations for sustainable mining industry in the Barents region. This seminar, as a final conference of the project, will present and discuss the results of the project.