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Thinking before exploiting: stimulating informed decision-making (Article SRJS mining exchange Madag

Minerals extraction has serious social and environmental consequences. People in the Philippines have experienced this first hand. A sound governance structure with effective implementation and enforcement mechanisms is therefore indispensable before starting extractive activities. But what should countries that are expecting a similar mining boom take into account in order to achieve maximum societal benefit from their minerals while limiting the negative consequences as much as possible? Three recommendations from the Philippines’ experience.

Over the past 15 years, the Philippines have seen an explosive growth of the mining sector. Dozens of large mines were opened, often without public participation. The construction of mines has destroyed tropical rainforests and driven farmers and indigenous people from their land. Mining has led to considerable pollution of rivers and coastal waters, jeopardizing the health and water and food provision of local communities, while at the same time not significantly contributing to economic growth and local development.

The example of the Philippines clearly shows the serious social and environmental consequences that go hand in hand with mining development. To help countries expecting a mining boom avoid similar problems, IUCN NL has recently facilitated a learning exchange visit between the Philippines and Madagascar, where mineral extraction is likely to set off sooner or later after the upcoming elections. Representatives from Madagascar’s public and private sector and IUCN NL partner organizations traveled to the Philippines to learn from the extensive knowledge their Philippine counterparts have gathered on precautions that should be taken to limit the negative consequences of the extractive industry. Tina Pimentel, coordinator of Bantay Kita, a coalition of civil society organizations advocating for transparency and accountability in the extractive industry in the Philippines, shares her insights.

Know the full picture

A country can only make a balanced decision on mining versus other development scenarios if it has all relevant information at hand. “To develop a mining scenario in such a way that it ensures maximum, long-term benefit to local people and the country, with minimal negative impact, you will need the full picture,” Pimentel states. “In order to designate strategic No-Go-Zones to limit the negative impact of extractive activities, it is imperative to have an inventory of how much minerals you have and where they are located.” This requires timely access to comprehensive data and documents relevant to extractives.”

Have a sound governance framework in place

To ensure long-term sustainable development, a strong governance framework is needed. “It is pivotal that resource extraction is aligned with the country’s national policy,” Pimentel says. The development of mineral extraction should therefore go hand in hand with clear and inclusive spatial planning, to ensure various land use needs are considered and carefully orchestrated. Pimentel stresses that the policies governing natural resources should not just consider fiscal costs and benefits, but take into account also the non-fiscal ones, such as water pollution and the eternal risk of tailing dam collapses. “Having a sound governance framework in place is not enough,” she adds. “You also need strict enforcement of policies and guidelines, with penalties for offenders.”

Jaybee Garganera of ATM, the Philippine Alliance Against Mining, specifies: "The focus should be on mineral resource governance, rather than on mining regulation.” A crucial difference, as de facto, mining regulation only refers to the process of getting minerals from under the ground and profiting from it. “Mineral governance contains the entire value chain, including also the processing and the final product. The difference also includes the shift on perspective that citizens and the country must directly benefit from the extraction of minerals through its industrialization, without compromising the ability of the next generation to benefit from the country’s natural resources”.

Make use of the power of civil society

Civil society has an important role in promoting informed decision-making to achieve the best land use scenario. “CSOs can enhance the transparency and accountability of development processes. They should inform communities about the expected impacts of mining, their rights and available alternatives,” Pimentel explains. “With this information at hand, communities can participate in consultation processes and make informed decisions.”

These recommendations provide valuable lessons for civil society organizations, policy makers and mining companies in countries expecting to develop an extractive industry.

Informed vision for Madagascar

Ndranto Razakamanarina, chairman of Alliance Voahary Gasy, a platform of 27 Malagasy civil society organizations working for environmental governance, took part in the exchange visit. He is concerned that Madagascar lacks the necessary governance framework to start mining activities in a responsible way. “90% of the population lives below the poverty threshold. Mining will not change that. Instead, protecting our rich biodiversity and investing in ecotourism would be more beneficial to the country and its citizens”. Razakamanarina is impressed by the strong mobilization of civil society in the Philippines. “Back in Madagascar, I will share the insights from this visit with civil society, so we can develop a joint vision on extractive activities in Madagascar.”

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