The relationship between mining and biodiversity has been rocky since its beginning.

Blockhead will be attending PDAC 2019 as it kicks off in Canada this weekend. PDAC will deal with current issues in the mining sector such as sustainability, data, diversity and technological change. One such focus is on biodiversity.

Despite using less land than other processes such as agriculture (-1% land use as opposed to 62%), mining still affects the environment in a myriad of other ways. It’s still, however, necessary to keep biodiversity in mind when commencing mining operations.

The negative effect of mining isn’t purely limited to land use. The environmental impact also extends to poor waste disposal and polluting incidents (such as spills), as well as the large amount of resources that go into creating and sustaining a mine.

The UN emphasise the necessity of adequate planning and operation in mining operations. Inefficient management of a mine site can be detrimental to the environment and any communities in the local area.

But what if there was a way to make this process easier?

The biodiversity problem

The impact of mining on biodiversity loss largely comes from:

  • Land use and community displacement
  • Impact on water systems
  • The effect of energy usage and supporting the mine
  • Pollution

This doesn’t just tie into environmental responsibility. A company’s impact is intricately tied in with their reputation, especially in a time when people are taking more interest in a miner’s sustainability and ethics.

Damage the environment, and it will inevitably become public. There was a time when companies could hide their mistakes. With social media and connectivity, that time is over.

Companies ultimately benefit themselves by mining responsibly – ethically and financially.

Mining companies are therefore under pressure to act responsibly, within a certain biodiversity framework. There are some companies, like Rio Tinto, who are already taking it upon themselves to operate in a responsible and sustainable manner.

Around forty percent of the global economy depends on biological products and processes. That’s why it’s vital that companies are environmentally conscious. Most mining operations also rely on the biodiversity of a region; they can’t continue without it.

What can be done?

Already, initiatives exist to solve the dilemma of mining’s effects on ecosystems.

Proteus, for example, is a UN initiative. It helps companies minimise financial risk, to ensure compliance and consider their impact on biodiversity. Proteus does this by allowing access to global diversity data and providing advice.

This isn’t always enough – but there is technology that can optimise and automate the process.

New technologies have the potential to revolutionise biodiversity in mining. These range from systems that use artificial intelligence, machine learning and blockchain to minimise and record environmental impact, to drones or smart sensors.

AI and machine learning can optimise risk analysis. AI has the ability to calculate, predict and assess much better than the average human. Blockchain, on the other hand, provides a method of recording to display your company’s transparent practices. This allows consumers to hold companies to accountability.

All these nascent technologies together could prove revolutionary to companies assessing the risk of their future operation.

Ironically, the very technologies that will, eventually, reduce our impact (electric cars, renewable energy) will be more demanding on the mining sector, which may hurt biodiversity. This is why it’s integral for companies to start bringing these technologies in now, to limit their future impact.

With their help, it might be possible for mining and biodiversity to co-exist peacefully.

To find out more about blockchain’s uses in mining, click here.