Mainstreaming Biodiversity in Arctic Mining
Mainstreaming Biodiversity in Arctic Mining
Mainstreaming Biodiversity in Arctic Mining
Mainstreaming Biodiversity in Arctic Mining
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BiodiversityThe United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity defines biodiversity as “the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems, as well as the ecological complexes, of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species, and of ecosystems”. Biodiversity includes the multitude of poorly known species, of which there are many in the Arctic, that collectively provide the foundation for food webs and ecosystems. The interactions between humans and their surroundings are also part of the diversity, vitality and sustainability of life on Earth. Biodiversity is important to maintain traditional subsistence lifestyles, including hunting, fishing, and gathering. See the Arctic Council Biodiversity webpage for more information.

The Arctic region is changing in rapid and unprecedented ways. The Arctic Council, an international forum comprised of the eight Arctic countries, six Indigenous Peoples organizations, and observers, seeks to collaboratively understand and address Arctic issues for the benefit of all people, biodiversity, and the environments on which they depend.

In 2013, the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF) Working Group, one of six working groups of the Arctic Council, published the Arctic Biodiversity Assessment (ABA). This assessment identified the primary factors impacting biodiversity across the Arctic and included recommendations to policy makers on how to address those stressors. One of the stressors is development, including resource extraction. Recommendation #4 of the ABA encourages all those working on development activities in the Arctic to incorporate biodiversity considerations in their planning and operations.

Phase I: Challenges and Proposed Solutions

In 2018, CAFF launched the project “Mainstreaming Biodiversity in Arctic Mining” to pilot the implementation of the ABA recommendation. Recognizing the wide variety of industries that engage in Arctic activities (e.g., oil and gas, shipping, and tourism), CAFF agreed to initially focus on the mining sector. The decision to coordinate with the mining industry first was based on several factors:

  • Global interest in mining in the Arctic continues to increase;
  • Several national and international mining or related organizations are currently interested and engaged in biodiversity conservation; and
  • Many examples of good practices exist and should be shared.

Coal train at Ny ÅlesundPhoto: Amanda GrahamMining and other extractive activities are key economic drivers in the Arctic that provide jobs, infrastructure, training and educational opportunities, and other benefits to communities and states. At the same time, environmental impacts can be difficult to mitigate due to things like lack of data on historical and existing Arctic ecological conditions, compounded by harsh weather patterns and remote locations. The CAFF Working Group seeks to facilitate further opportunities for dialogue among all stakeholders, as well as with Arctic Indigenous Peoples, with the goal of advancing biodiversity conservation and supporting sustainable development across the Arctic. 

The report from Phase I of this project titled Mainstreaming Biodiversity in Arctic Mining – Challenges and Proposed Solutions, was published in May 2019 and identifies key challenges and possible solutions for incorporating biodiversity considerations into mining operations in the Arctic. It is based on information received from:

  • A series of CAFF-hosted workshops with participation by representatives from the mining industry and related companies, government agencies, Indigenous Peoples and other entities (e.g., mining associations and networks), that were held in Anchorage, Alaska and Finland in 2018 and 2019;
  • Discussions with representatives of the mining industry operating in the Arctic;
  • Discussions with and/or contributions from subject matter experts; and
  • Published materials.

The Phase I convenings and subsequent report identified key challenges to mainstreaming biodiversity in Arctic mining operations, while presenting possible solutions for a path forward. They include:

  • Building trust and coordination: 
    • within and among permitting agencies;
    • among agencies and the mining industry; and
    • across agencies, mining industry, and the public, especially in relation to Indigenous communities.
  • Strengthening mutually beneficial partnerships with communities impacted by mining operations.
  • Enhancing alignment among government agencies regarding environmental permitting, particularly environmental review requirements.
  • Reaching agreements on data (e.g. cultural and ecological indicators of change) collection, management, and sharing of information.
  • Establishing clear processes for engaging Indigenous Peoples and utilizing Traditional Knowledge*.
  • Developing a system that is acceptable, predictable and measurable for both industry, stakeholders and authorities to manage ecological compensation.

* – Traditional Knowledge (TK): knowledge based on generations of empirical evidence and interactions with the environment. 

BiodiversityWord Cloud: Casey Burns

While the report is not representative of the entirety of Arctic interests, the continuation of this project will increase engagement with the mining industry, government agencies, Indigenous Peoples and representative organizations, communities, Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) and other stakeholders to ensure the inclusion of broader perspectives and contributions. To build on the accomplishments of Phase I, the CAFF Working Group looks to improve outreach and engagement, particularly with Arctic indigenous and community representatives, and to better understand the kinds of tools that will be most useful to decision-makers engaged in, or considering, issues related to Arctic mining and biodiversity, which will be addressed in Phase II of the project.


Phase II: Increasing Common Ground

Increasing Common GroundClick on image to enlargeIn Spring 2020, CAFF launched Phase II, which will continue through Spring 2021. As this initiative moves forward, approaches to solving the challenges outlined in Phase I will be expanded upon in more actionable detail though collaborative interactions between the CAFF Working Group, the Arctic national government agencies, the mining industry, Indigenous Peoples organizations, and other experts and interested parties. The process will entail a series of facilitated virtual dialogues, informational webinars and videos, and interviews. Outcomes of this project will include relationship-building and increased trust between industry, government, and Arctic Indigenous communities, which will ultimately lead to more proactive coordination, mutually beneficial partnerships, and finding common ground on incorporating biodiversity considerations into mining projects.


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