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Mining companies vow not to mine in world heritage areas

Published by MAC on 2003-08-21

Mining companies vow not to mine in world heritage areas

21 August , 2003

(Transcript from an ABC of Australia broadcast on the PM programme)

Reporter: Kirrin McKechnie

TANYA NOLAN: In an environmental coup, 15 of the world's biggest mining companies have vowed not to mine in world heritage areas. The companies, including BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Pasminco have signed the agreement preventing them from operating in or even exploring sites that carry United Nations World Heritage Site Status, such as the Great Barrier Reef and Kakadu. While the pledge has been welcomed by most conservationists, some are still sceptical.

As Kirrin McKechnie reports.

KIRRIN MCKECHNIE: The mining for uranium at Jabiluka, in the World Heritage listed, Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory, was one of Australia's most controversial environmental issues of the 80s and 90s. Now, the mining industry itself is moving to ensure that never happens again.

The International Council on Mining and Metals, comprising 15 of the world's biggest mining companies, has signed an undertaking to treat World Heritage Sites as no go areas.

Jacqui Katona is an Aboriginal activist, who led the fight against uranium mining at Jabiluka.

JACQUI KATONA: I think it creates a superficial idea that mining companies are in fact in favour of protecting world heritage, when in fact mining companies don't understand the concept of world heritage, and the fact that it's not something that you put up on a museum shelf behind glass and look at for the rest of your life, it's actually living, breathing, surviving dynamic social change in indigenous communities as well. And I have not come across a mining company who's prepared to accommodate that.

KIRRIN MCKECHNIE: Jacqui Katona thinks it's a stunt.

JACQUI KATONA: It goes along with the green-wash that mining companies are involved in, where they purport to be good corporate citizens undertaking sustainable mining. And the fact is that it's an oxymoron.

KIRRIN MCKECHNIE: The World Wide Fund for Nature's Michael Rae supports the pledge by the mining companies, but thinks it's only a very small step.

MICHAEL RAE: Well, certainly we would any commitment by these mining companies to protect World Heritage areas. But I must say we would hope they would go further and extend that recognition and protection to all National Parks and other protected areas because certainly they also deserve to be protected from mining exploration and exploitation.

KIRRIN MCKECHNIE: But Paul Cristofani from the Minerals Council of Australia says the sceptics are misguided and there will be real environmental outcomes.

PAUL CRISTOFANI: I am in contact with companies on a daily basis from small to medium and right up to the global giants in the mining industry, who all, to my experience, are walking the walk of sustainable development - the heart's in the right place, and the commitment is there.

TANYA NOLAN: Paul Cristofani is from the Minerals Council of Australia.

Also see:


Mining firms agree to observe world heritage sites

Press release from the ICMM, London

August 20 1993

London - Fifteen of the world's largest metal miners and producers have signed an agreement not to operate in world heritage sites like the Taj Mahal and Great Barrier Reef, the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) said this week. Signatories to the agreement, which resulted from talks with the World Conservation Union (IUCN), pledged not to explore or mine at existing sites that carry United Nations World Heritage site status.

The World Heritage Convention is a U.N. initiative to protect natural and cultural heritage. There are 754 World Heritage sites, including the Taj Mahal in India and Egyptian Pyramids, the Great Barrier Reef off Australia and Yellowstone National Park in the United States.

The ICMM said in a statement its members recognised the role of properly designated and managed protected areas in conservation strategies and the importance of national and global protected area systems.

ICMM comprises Alcoa Inc BLT.L , Anglo American PLC AAL.L , AngloGold, BHP Billiton Ltd,

Freeport-McMoRan FTX.N , Mitsubishi Materials 5711.T , Newmont NEM.N , Nippon Mining & Metals, Noranda NRD.TO , Pasminco PAS.AX ,Placer Dome PDG.TO , Rio Tinto RIO.AX , Sumitomo Metal Mining 5713.T , Umicore and WMC Resources WMR.AX .

"The commitments made by ICMM establish important precedents, not only for the mining industry, but also other extractive industries," Lisa Cullimore, spokeswoman at Rio Tinto Ltd said.

Friends of the Earth International mining coordinator, Isaac Rojas said: "We welcome any move that takes mining pressure off such areas, however we still want to see a halt to all resource extraction, not only because of the effect on environment and biodiversity, but also the negative effect on local communities. Our call is, no more mining."

Matt Taylor, manager for sustainable development at BHP Billiton said: "The ICMM has a dialogue with the World Conservation Union to look at other protected area classifications. World Heritage sites are one high profile form of classification, but there are others and we fully support that dialogue."

See: International Council on Mining and Metals Press Release (in PDF format)

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