UNEP news: New Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management aims to improve the safety of tailings facilities in the mining industry


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United Nations Environment Programme
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The Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management (the Standard) establishes the first global standard on tailings management that can be applied to existing and future tailings facilities, wherever they are and whoever operates them.

Strengthening current practices in the mining industry by integrating social, environmental, local economic and technical considerations, the Standard covers the entire tailings facility lifecycle – from site selection, design and construction, through management and monitoring, to closure and post-closure.

With an ambition of zero harm to people and the environment, the Standard significantly raises the bar for the industry to achieve strong social, environmental and technical outcomes. It elevates accountability to the highest organisational levels and adds new requirements for independent oversight. The Standard also establishes clear expectations around global transparency and disclosure requirements, helping to improve understanding by interested stakeholders.

The Standard was developed through an independent process – the Global Tailings Review (GTR) –which was co-convened in March 2019 by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) and International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) following the tragic tailings facility collapse at Brumadinho, Brazil, on 25 January 2019.

The co-conveners have each endorsed it and call for its broad and effective implementation across the industry: 

  • UNEP will support governments that wish to incorporate and build upon this Standard into their national or state legislation and policies.
  • PRI, representing USD 103.4 trillion in assets under management, will be developing investor expectations to support all mining companies in implementing the Standard.
  • ICMM member companies will implement the Standard as a commitment of membership, which includes robust site-level validation and third-party assessments.  

Dr Bruno Oberle, Chair of the Global Tailings Review, said: “It is with great pleasure that I present the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management, which sets a precedent for the safe management of tailings facilities, towards the goal of zero harm.

“The catastrophic dam collapse at Vale’s Córrego de Feijão mine in Brumadinho was a human and environmental tragedy that demanded decisive and appropriate action to enhance the safety and strengthen the governance of tailings facilities across the globe. I am particularly pleased to deliver a document which reflects and addresses the complexity and multi-disciplinary nature of sound tailings management.

“It has been a privilege to lead this work and I now call on all mining companies, governments and investors to use the Standard and to continue to work together to improve the safety of tailings facilities globally. It is my hope that the Standard will be supported by an independent body that can maintain the quality and further refine and strengthen the Standard over time.”

Ligia Noronha, Director of UNEP’s Economy Division, said: “The approach to mine tailings facilities must place safety first by making environmental and human safety a priority in management actions and on-the-ground operations. The Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management is an important milestone towards the ambition of zero harm to people and the environment from tailings facilities. Its impact will depend upon its uptake and UNEP will continue to be engaged in its rollout. We are encouraged by the ICMM role and commitments on Standard implementation and call on the rest of the mining industry, and those that finance and invest in the mining industry, to make a similar commitment. In order to maintain the integrity of the Standard, it is crucial that a non-industry organisation identify and pursue the most effective implementation model such as the establishment of an independent entity. To this end, UNEP will continue to engage in dialogue with other interested stakeholders to explore potential solutions.”

Adam Matthews, Director Ethics & Engagement, Investment Team, Church of England Pensions Board (representing PRI) said: “For decades people have called for a global standard that can drive best practice. It is tragic it has taken the Brumadinho disaster to make this happen, but a unique partnership has come together to address a systemic challenge faced by the mining sector and we are now as committed to make this common practice in all operations. For the first time we have a global standard that goes beyond existing best practice and establishes the most comprehensive Standard that Investors will hold companies accountable for in their implementation. I look forward to working with all parties to establish an independent entity which will oversee the implementation of the Standard”

John Howchin, Secretary General, Council on Ethics for the Swedish National Pension Funds (representing PRI) said: “In January 2019 we called for there to be a new industry standard that drives best practice to address the risk of tailings facility failure, and we have been assured by the Global Tailings Review’s independent expert panel that if this standard had been in place, the disaster at Brumadinho would not have happened. We expect all mining companies to comply with this framework, and responsible investors looking to address the risks of tailings failure now have a responsibility to drive implementation, incorporating the Standard into stewardship and active ownership strategies.”

Tom Butler, CEO of ICMM, said: “ICMM and its members – representing about a third of the global industry – have an unwavering commitment to safer tailings facility management. ICMM’s Council welcomes the new Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management as a significant step forward in achieving this commitment. Through effective implementation of this Standard, ICMM members will set the bar for all mining companies to work together to make all tailings facilities safer.

"The Standard will be integrated into ICMM’s existing member commitments, which includes third party assurance and validation, and we are in the process of developing supporting guidance. Members have committed that all facilities with ‘Extreme’ or ‘Very high’ potential consequences will be in conformance with the Standard within three years of today, and all other facilities within five years." 

The Standard covers six key topics: affected communities; integrated knowledge base; design, construction, operation and monitoring of tailings facilities; management and governance; emergency response and long-term recovery; and public disclosure and access to information. These topics contain 15 Principles and 77 specific auditable requirements for operators to adhere to.

Today’s launch of the Standard is supported by two accompanying documents, published independently by the GTR Chair: an in-depth compendium of papers that explore various operational and governance issues related to tailings, and a report on the feedback from the public consultation.

The GTR was chaired by Dr Oberle with the support of a multi-disciplinary Expert Panel and input from a multi-stakeholder Advisory Group. It involved extensive public consultation with affected communities, government representatives, investors, multilateral organisations and mining industry stakeholders and is informed by existing good practice and findings from past tailings facility failures.


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