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Socio-economic Environmental Management

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7.1 Socio-economic Environmental Management

EMPRs completed to date are deficient in their attention to socio-economic impacts, and in defining appropriate measures to mitigate or optimise these effects. In many instances, the discussion of socio-economic impacts focuses on the positive impacts of the mining venture only, such as employment creation, and a brief discussion of the economic spin-offs for the local economy (without expanding on predicted local expenditure). Management actions to address the negative socio-economic impacts of mining, such as problems associated with influx of job seekers and the infrastructural and service capacity of the affected towns and their capacity to support mining activities, are seldom considered in any detail. Furthermore, EMPRs rarely set management targets or goals for example, for implementing affirmative action, and the purchase of goods and expenditure in local communities from small micro-enterprises. Mining companies are reluctant to commit themselves to these kinds of policies, which can be audited.
Blame for shortcomings in environmental management cannot only be levelled at the companies concerned. There is a need for the governments of the respective countries to create incentives and to provide appropriate guiding legislation. Perhaps the most pressing requirement in this regard, is the need for the governments of Namibia and South Africa to redress their policies on the allocation of diamond mining revenues. Consideration should be given to investing a certain proportion of annual revenues to the areas which support diamond mining in order to upgrade infrastructure, stimulate development and create employment for local residents, especially in anticipation of continued downscaling of onshore diamond mining. Incentives such as tax breaks should be considered to encourage companies to purchase a greater proportion of goods and services from local entrepreneurs.

7.2 Biophysical Environmental Management

Many environmental impact studies undertaken to date have been speculative desktop assessments, or conducted after-the-fact. In most cases, pre-mining baseline data were lacking or inadequate, which preclude detailed assessments of changes to the biophysical environment attributable to diamond mining. In an ecosystem where natural heterogeneity in the biophysical environment is commonplace, a great deal of uncertainty therefore remains concerning the extent and significance of the damage caused by mining activities. For example, despite considerable desktop effort devoted to rock lobsters, conflicts arise time and again because speculation is not defensible. Directed field studies that recently been completed are helping to clarify this issue, however.

A further shortcoming of many environmental impact studies is that most studies are addressed at either a high taxonomic level, or at the level of the community. For example, the effects of diamond mining have been examined with respect to benthic communities, sea birds, fish, mammals, etc. When considered as a group, more often than not the conclusions reached are that impacts are minimal. Some species, however, may be neglected through such an approach and there are cases where mining may in fact detrimentally impact specific components of the community. This is not insignificant, especially if the species in question are rare, endangered, or perhaps of commercial value. For example, beach communities as a whole are considered resilient to disturbance. However, there is considerable body of circumstantial evidence that suggests one component of beach communities is particularly susceptible to diamond mining: the semi-terrestrial isopod Tylos granulatus. Human impact on Tylos is so widespread, in fact, that it is being considered for inclusion as a Red Data Book species. This animal warrants further attention.

7.3 Environmental Management as a Whole

Cumulative impacts are an important, although a largely ignored issue both within
and between the various users of the BCLME. Between industries, environmental management is most often conducted in isolation. That is to say that the EMPRs of diamond mining companies examine the effects of diamond mining, those for oil and gas exploration likewise only examine their own direct impacts, and so on. In an ecosystem such as the BCLME that has a myriad of users, isolated approaches may fail to uncover possible cumulative effects between industries that could ultimately lead to environmental catastrophe. With increasing pressure on the BCLME from fishing interests, oil and gas exploration, diamond mining, coastal shipping and recreational use, there is a dire need for an integrated and co-ordinated approach to the management of activities affecting this ecosystem.
On the other hand, cumulative impacts within the mining industry are also largely ignored. Impacts such as kelp cutting, disturbance to the benthic communities, and habitat modification, for example may act in synergy, although thus far these impacts have only been considered in isolation. Together, they may have chronic, acute or even beneficial impacts on the natural environment and these need to be further investigated through focused and scientifically valuable research and monitoring programmes. Such monitoring programmes will enable quantification of cumulative impacts in space and time, in relation to environmental and resource sustainability. The importance of cumulative impacts become all the more pervasive in an expanding and technologically advancing mining industry.

Environmental Management Programmes should be dynamic documents, being updating as mining methodologies or plans change, or as new environmental information becomes available. This is a side to EMPs that is not often seen. The plethora of monitoring activities have little value if the results of monitoring are not objectively evaluated and likewise incorporated within existing management programmes. Part of the problem is attributable to the insular approach to environmental management that has been adopted, which leads to considerable duplication in scoping, impact assessments, specialist studies and management plans. In addition to a waste of resources, information that is collected is rarely disseminated, with the result that mistakes can, and often are, repeated. As the problems faced by the mining industry are largely ubiquitous through the region, considerably more effort must be channeled into two activities: objective reviews of the information to date, and a means of consolidating directed research and monitoring.

The criticism levelled above becomes all the more pervasive when the future of marine diamond mining, and coastal and marine use as a whole, is considered. At present, the vast majority of diamond mining is terrestrial based, with marine mining enjoying only a small proportion of the effort. Numerous coastal mines are set to close over the next 10 to 20 years and future diamond mining effort is likely to expand into the offshore. Concomitantly, the stage is set to see an increase in effort in both fishing, and oil and gas exploration (see other documents in this series). Almost without question, this will lead to an increase in the number and severity of conflicts between these sectors, as the natural resource base is finite and shrinking, under pressure from an increasing number of users. This makes the need for co-ordinated efforts taking a holistic approach to environmental management all the more important.

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