Stockholm (NordSIP) – On the eve of the anniversary of the Brumadinho tailings dam disaster in Brazil, the Mining and Tailings Safety Initiative announced it would send a delegation to visit local communities and assess how their concerns were addressed. The Initiative, a group with over US$14 trillion in assets under management, will be represented by members of the Church of England’s Pensions Board, the Council on Ethics of the Swedish National Pension Funds and the PRI.
At the event where the Initiative decided to visit the local communities in Brazil, investors also adopted a set of principles detailing their expectations for mining companies regarding tailings storage facilities and how investors should engage with and finance the sector. The Initiative also identified several other interventions that need to be made and invited companies and governments to work together to implement them. The first was to establish a global alert system similar to that operated for aviation and shipping. According to the announcement, this mechanism should be independent, operate 24/7 and alert local and national governments, regulators and companies when monitoring reveals concerns. The Initiative also called on the parties to identify the most dangerous dams and establish a mechanism so that they can be removed.
“On the eve of the Brumadinho disaster we remember those lives lost and families and communities impacted by this tragedy,” Adam Matthews, Director for Ethics & Engagement for the Church of England Pensions Board and Co-Chair of the Global Mining & Tailings Safety Initiative said. “Communities need to know they are safe, and all that can be done is being done to prevent future disasters from happening. We have established a global database, but today we call for the creation of a global 24/7 independent alert system for all tailings dams. Investors will now engage with industry to see this is created and we will reinforce this through our expectations of the sector. Much more needs to still be done and removal of the most dangerous dams has to also be the immediate priority. We must ensure that the voices of those communities impacted by this disaster continue to inform our response.”
A New Tailings Dam Database
The announcement also disclosed information on a range of other initiatives, first among which was the launch of the first-ever global public database of over 1,900 tailings dams. The free and searchable database is made available to the public and aims to provide unprecedented access to information about mining waste. It covers 98 mining companies, 162 partner companies, 305 mining operation 764 mine sites and 1939 tailings storage facilities, based on mining company disclosures and satellite imagery.
“One year on from this disaster, that should never have happened, we release the first global tailings database tracking 1,900 of the world’s tailings dams,” says John Howchin, Secretary-General of the Council of Ethics for the Swedish Public Pension Funds and Co-Chair of the Global Mining and Tailings Safety Initiative. “This is a fraction of the dams that exist but it is a start and establishes what we expect from any company seeking finance from investors. We are continuing to engage with companies that have not disclosed and will use votes and company AGMs to ensure this request is responded to. Not reporting is unacceptable and poses a risk to our pension funds.”
However, there is still some way to go. In its present size, the Beta version of the database only represents between 6% to 11% of the estimated 18,000 to 30,000 tailing dams around the world Howchin and Matthews explain in an article for the Telegraph. “This is very much a first step,” the co-chairs of the Initiative add. “Companies are sending in responses as we speak and there is engagement ongoing to get more responses into the system,” Howchin told NordSIP.
“When first engaging with this issue as investors in the mining sector we were told tailings dam collapses were black swan events,” Howchin and Matthews said. “Well they are not, and there is an increasing trend that points to a regularity of major failures of dams. If we are to be honest these two disasters are the inevitable consequence of a mining system that has been pushed to maximise returns and reduce costs, with the treatment of waste seen in many respects as an externality. Whilst it is easy to point the finger, we should all be aware that we are also part of this problem as society demands the minerals and metals for modern life including the low carbon transition, and we need this sector to flourish.”
Image from Wikimedia Commons