Sustainable development in mining
Richards, Jeremy P. Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
- Minerals and society
- Corporate social responsibility
- Industry's role
- Links to Primary Literature
- Additional Readings
Mining of nonrenewable mineral resources is not a sustainable activity in the long term because resources become depleted and mines eventually close. On the other hand, mining can contribute to sustainable development through conversion of mineral capital into other forms of more durable social or human capital. This conversion only partially involves material utilization of the mineral products themselves, for example in infrastructure development, because much of the product is effectively consumed and sent to waste. High-value ornamental minerals such as gold and gem diamonds are anomalous in being of little practical value and are mostly hoarded. Their physical contributions as minerals to sustainable development are therefore minimal, although they are clearly of societal value. In contrast, the key contribution that the minerals industry makes to longer-term sustainable development is through conversion of its products to wealth. A portion of that wealth ideally returns to and benefits wider society through taxes, royalties, employment, and other payments and services that reflect the value and quantity of the commodity mined. A critical link in this conversion is the role of governments, which will decide how royalty and tax revenues are spent or invested. Stable and efficient governments, committed to sustainable development principles, coupled with fair and effective enforcement of laws, are essential to this process. In the absence of good governance or the capacity for governance, industry (of any kind) cannot effectively contribute to sustainable development, and may in fact help produce the opposite result by bankrolling and sustaining inefficient or corrupt administrations.
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