It seems such a simple idea, that you must at first wonder why anybody would write or read over 100 pages on the topic of designing a mine for closure, particularly when the document, Mining for Closure is further burdened by the attempted all-encompassing subtitle Policies and Guidelines for Sustainable Mining Practice and Closure of Mines.

The simple idea is that every mine should have in place at all stages of planning, design, and operation a Closure Plan that is regularly updated, and for which there is financial assurance (a bond) that the Closure Plan can be implemented if mining stops, now, soon, or in the distant future.

Simplicity by itself is, however, no guarantee that an idea will be implemented. An enforced law or self-interest are better motivators than simplicity. So the 100 pages of philosophy on mining for closure was written---primarily, I suspect, to motive southeastern European governments to pass laws to make it in the best self-interests of mining companies to have a Closure Plan and the money to pay to implement it.

I cannot possible recommend that you read the document in its entirety; it is far too repetitive for cover-to-cover perusal. Better take a look at it for the pictures, much like I do with better known publications. The pictures are horrific: mines and industrial sites in Serbia, Romania, et al. where gross violations of elementary environmental principles are readily apparent.

The only person I can imagine likely to read the whole document is a student of political science specializing in mining practice and international law. And I do not know any of those, although I believe we should have some. Let us hope the recommendations of the High-Level Panel that presumably read the whole report are implemented; namely “…the Mining for Closure guide and checklist as well as a shorter, popular version in the languages of the region be published and distributed widely for use by policy makers and stakeholders alike.”

With so few accolades for this document, why do I bother to write about it? Because in its own way it presents a fascinating picture of the political processes that characterize a part of the world about which I know little. I have read the stories of communism, oppression, civil war, human rights violations, mining to support dictators, and now the awakenings of civil society and maybe rationale norms of behavior. In this document we find a case history of a potentially new way of doing things applied to mines for which my South African and United States experience does not prepare me.

We get a hint of the motivations behind the 100 pages in these two points from the “Declaration of the High-Level Panel of the Sub-Regional Conference on Reducing Environmental and Security Risks from Mining in South Eastern Europe and the Tisza River Basin”

  • Recognizing that environmentally sound management of new mines, and the upgrading of environmental protection at existing mines, will require the enforcement and enhancement of policies and regulations at the national level, guided also by such regional mechanism and agreements that already exist, in particular the European Union Directive relating to mining wastes.
  • Convinced that preventing and reducing the environmental, health, and security risks of mining operations and legacies in South Eastern Europe and the Tisza River Basin will require a major effort of capacity building and maintenance for governments, communities, NGOs, and industry and calling on calling on appropriate international bodies to support such programs in the region.

The High-Level Panel proceeds to: endorse the document as a “guide and checklist”; call on governments to review their mining laws to encourage best practice; request United Nations organizations to support policies, programs, and projects to fix things up in the region; and request the private sector to inform the public of what industry is doing and let the public have a say.

As a kind of big stick the publishers of the document add two appendices:

  • The Equator Principles: and industry approach for financial institutions in determining, assessing, and managing environmental and social risk in project financing.
  • Governance Principles for Foreign Direct Investment in Hazardous Activities. From the Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe, the thirty separate principles can almost be taken as the start of an international law on responsible mining. Amazing what a few moral principles and some brief, well-written text can encompass.
The High-Level Panel considered Mining for Closure a conference in May 2005. I wonder what has happened since? At the very least this should be a discussion group topic for a socially-minded professor of mining.