A review into a new global tailings standard was first launched in March 2019 following the tragic tailings facility collapse at Brumadinho, Brazil, in January 2019
The Global Tailings Review (GTR) has launched the first-ever Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management to improve safety measures in the mining industry.
The GTR 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, in January 2019.
The new standard aims to strengthen current practices in the mining industry by integrating social, environmental, local economic and technical considerations, and covers the entire tailings facility lifecycle – from site selection, design and construction, through management and monitoring, to closure and post-closure.
The global tailings standard “sets a precedent for the safe management of tailings facilities”
The GTR’s chair Dr Bruno Oberle said the standard “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,” he added.
“I am particularly pleased to deliver a document which reflects and addresses the complexity and multi-disciplinary nature of sound tailings management.”
Dr Oberle said it has been a privilege to lead the GTR and called 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,” he added.
Aims of the global tailings management standard
With an ambition of “zero harm to people and the environment”, the GTR claims the standard “significantly raises the bar for the industry to achieve strong social, environmental and technical outcomes”.
The guidelines cover 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.
Within the topics, there are 15 principles and 77 specific auditable requirements for operators to adhere to.
The measures aim to elevate accountability to the highest organisational levels and brings forward new requirements for independent oversight.
In order to help improve the understanding of interested stakeholders, it has also established expectations around global transparency and disclosure requirements, which includes information about the potential consequences of a failure.
The framework allows operators flexibility in how to achieve safe tailings facility management and does not prohibit the use of upstream dams, such as the one at Brumadinho, where at least 259 people were killed in January 2019.
The GTR’s individual role’s in implementing the standard
As part of its commitment to the guidelines, UNEP is set to support governments that wish to incorporate the standard into their national or state legislation and policies.
PRI, which represents $103.4tn in assets under management, will be developing investor expectations to support all mining companies in implementing the framework.
Meanwhile, ICMM member companies will implement the standard as a commitment of membership, which includes robust site-level validation and third-party assessments.