New global industry standard on tailings management launched

August 5, 2020

Following the tragic tailings dam collapse in Brumadinho, Brazil on Jan. 25, 2019 that left more than 270 dead it was evident that step changes are needed for the global mining sector and how it designs, implements, manages and monitors its tailings facilities.

One of the significant changes to come from the tragedy was the formation of the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management (the Standard). 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).

The Standard, officially launched on Aug. 5, 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. The final 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 organizational 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 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 that reflects and addresses the complexity and multi-disciplinary nature of sound tailings management,” said Dr. Bruno Oberle, Chair of the Global Tailings Review. “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.”

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.

The 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.

“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,” said Tom Butler, chief executive officer of ICMM. “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.”

 

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