LONDON, 5 Aug 2020 - A revolutionary industry standard for the management of new and existing mine tailings facilities was introduced today, with the aim of eliminating tailings dam failures. Known as the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management, it resulted from the Global Tailings Review, a one-year review process by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM), and the UN-backed Principles of Responsible Investment (PRI), with input from GRID-Arendal.
The Global Tailings Review was launched after the tragic tailings dam disaster at Vale's Corrego do Feijão mine in Brumadinho, Brazil, on 25 January 2019, which killed 270 people. The three co-convenors - UNEP, ICMM, and PRI - represent government, industry, and investor stakeholders. Their ambition is for tailings facilities to cause zero harm to people and the environment.
GRID-Arendal's Elaine Baker was appointed to the multi-stakeholder panel that advised the Global Tailings Review. An expert on tailings dam safety, Baker co-authored the influential 2017 report "Mine Tailings Storage: Safety Is No Accident", published by UNEP and GRID-Arendal.
Tailings are the waste material that remains after the mining process has removed the desired mineral from the ground. This waste is commonly stored as a slurry behind dams. These dams are some of the largest human-made structures on the planet and require careful, ongoing management. While major failures of tailings dams are uncommon, when they do occur, they can be catastrophic for downstream communities and the environment.
The reasons for tailings dam failures are well understood, so the task of the Global Tailings Review was to establish a standard that would ensure mine operators applied best practices in planning, design, construction, operation, maintenance, monitoring, closure, and post-closure of tailings facilities.
"It is completely unnecessary for mine tailings dams to fail. We know how to prevent it", said Baker. "The new standard on tailings management brings together best practices from across the mining sector. If companies follow these guidelines, lives will be saved."
Other standards for tailings dam management exist, but the new global standard is more comprehensive and robust. It calls for greater consultation from the outset with potentially affected communities; increased independent engineering oversight at all stages of tailings management; more transparent mine operator accountability; increased public access to information on the consequence of failure; and an overall increased standard of reporting. Together, these provisions represent a system-wide change in tailings management that will dramatically improve safety.
GRID-Arendal has been involved in related activities including PRI's Investor Mining and Tailings Safety Initiative. This initiative led to GRID-Arendal building a first-of-its-kind database containing mining company disclosures of tailings dam information, the Global Tailings Portal, which was launched in January 2020. Originally compiled for the investor community, the portal will also provide an essential tool for the monitoring of company compliance with the new global standard. In addition, Baker and GRID-Arendal's Kristina Thygesen co-authored sections of "Towards Zero Harm: A Compendium of Papers Prepared for the Global Tailings Review", also released today.
GRID-Arendal is a non-profit environmental communications centre based in Norway. We transform environmental data into innovative, science-based information products and provide capacity-building services, with the aim of strengthening management capacity and motivating decision-makers to make positive change. We collaborate with the UN Environment Programme and other partners around the world.