Environmental management

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About the Minerals Council of Australia

The MCA is the leading advocate for Australia's world class minerals industry, promoting and enhancing sustainability, profitability and competitiveness. The MCA represents a world-leading minerals sector that is dynamic, diverse, sustainable and valued by all Australians. Read more.

Acknowledgement of Country

The MCA acknowledges and pays its respects to past, present and future Traditional Custodians and Elders and the continuation of cultural, spiritual and educational practices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website and linked publications may contain images or names of people who have since died.

Australia’s minerals industry is a global leader in good environmental stewardship. Environmental practices and outcomes are highly regulated by local, state and Commonwealth agencies. Beyond this, MCA member companies are preparing to adopt the Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM) management framework, which covers environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance.

How the industry operates is as important as what it produces. Industry works across the mining lifecycle to reduce environmental impact and ensure healthy air, land and water in areas in which we operate.   While mined land represents a small percentage of Australia’s land mass, land managed by the minerals industry can also make a valuable contribution to biodiversity conservation or support landscape connectivity.

Our industry works with Traditional Owners, environmental and community groups and other partners to integrate traditional ecological and local knowledge.

Land Management

Access to land is fundamental for minerals development.

The Australian minerals industry recognises that access to land is earned by demonstrating responsible land stewardship throughout the mining life cycle.  While mining is a temporary land use, the minerals industry acknowledges its responsibility to contribute towards sustainable land use outcomes.

At a national level, the minerals industry’s ‘footprint’ in the landscape is relatively small. The total industry footprint (including waste) occupies less than 0.1 per cent, only a fraction of land occupied by other major land uses.  At the local or regional level, the minerals industry can be a significant land manager as non-operational land can be significantly larger than the mining footprint and is often used for other activities such as agriculture.

The way the industry manages both operational and non-operational land (under existing or alternate uses) is critical to balancing the industry’s overall impact.  Notwithstanding the marked difference in the area of land occupied by the minerals industries and major land uses (including agriculture and conservation), circumstances arise where the demand for resources can overlap.

Working with local farmers, communities and Traditional Owners, and with careful, science based planning, mining, conservation, agriculture and other land uses can be complementary as sequential or neighbouring activities.  The minerals industry has led the development of innovative land management approaches which can enhance the integration and co-existence of those activities.

MCA members are committed to continuous improvement in their performance, beyond regulatory requirements and to contribute to the conservation of biodiversity.  Accordingly, the way minerals companies invest in landscape management and conservation activities has changed significantly in recent years.

Land rehabilitation is conducted across all phases of mine development and operation through to closure. Rehabilitation is broader than returning land to its former state. Rather, Australia’s minerals industry aims to leave a positive legacy. A range of post mining land uses can be considered in the closure plan, such as establishing farmland, recreational areas, and conservation areas. Protection of cultural assets and preserving biodiversity are also key considerations.

Biodiversity

The Australian minerals industry recognises the important link between climate change and biodiversity, and its role in protecting biodiversity in the landscapes in which the industry operates. The preservation of biodiversity is part of the development, operation and closure planning of every mining project. Minerals companies contribute to the recovery of threatened species through data collection and research.

The minerals industry applies the globally recognised ‘avoid-minimise-mitigate’ hierarchy to minimise land disturbance and native vegetation clearing.   

Where disturbances cannot be avoided, biodiversity offsets are one important tool to compensate or address the impact on biodiversity.  This usually involves securing the disturbed habitat for permanent conservation in another location.  This scientific process is subject to state and, in some cases, Commonwealth regulatory oversight. 

Collaborative approaches such as the Great Victoria Desert Biodiversity Trust are enabling greater participation by Traditional Owner, community and environmental groups in biodiversity offset schemes.  

Water

Australia’s minerals industry is committed to the stewardship of Australia’s water resource in line with the high environmental, social, cultural and economic value of water to all Australians. Water is recognised as a shared resource with multiple social, cultural, environmental and economic values.

Water use by Australia’s minerals industry is comprehensively regulated, represents a comparatively small share of national water consumption and generates high economic value. Gross value-add per gigalitre of water used in 2016-17 was $272 million for coal mining, $141 million for metal ore mining and $64 million for non-metallic mineral mining and quarrying.

Although the minerals industry is a comparatively small user of water nationally, the industry can be a significant water user at a local or regional level. The Australian minerals industry continues to work to further reduce its water use in line with a long-standing commitment to responsible water management, which includes:

  • Investing significantly in water infrastructure to support sustainable water use
  • Identifying opportunities for beneficial water use by third parties, including for agricultural production and town water supply
  • Supporting and investing in research and development to improve scientific knowledge of local water system and catchment health
  • Engaging with stakeholders including other water users within regions to support regional economic development and diversity and to maximise beneficial re-use of recycled water.

The Australian minerals industry is at the forefront of consistent water accounting and reporting, and has developed a sector-leading water accounting framework  (WAF). The framework has been adopted by MCA members and is used globally, and its metrics are used in company reports or on a regional basis. The WAF provides the basis to understand operational water use and its interaction with the surrounding environment and communities.

Mine rehabilitation and closure

Australian mining companies understand land rehabilitation is fundamental to responsible mining. The Australian minerals industry recognises its responsibility as a temporary custodian of land to contribute to sustainable land use outcomes.

Mining rehabilitation is critical to ongoing community acceptance and a key indicator for corporate reporting. Planning for rehabilitation takes place long before mining commences, and rehabilitation is undertaken progressively during the life of a mine wherever practical.

The industry’s approach to land rehabilitation has improved significantly over past decades – an evolution driven by sustained investment in land rehabilitation techniques, evolving corporate values, community expectations and government regulation.

While much progress has been made, the industry is continuing its efforts to improve rehabilitation methods to ensure mining’s compatibility with current and future land uses. Mine rehabilitation is highly regulated and, as a condition of approval, companies are required to progressive rehabilitate mine land, where practical. Many positive agricultural, environmental and other outcomes are being achieved within Australia on rehabilitated land.