Clash of interests, or not?
Over the last years, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has witnessed growing environmental awareness among governmental entities, NGOs, society and mining companies. Unfortunately, press releases and news articles published on the topic are tainted with an “us against them” mentality. This is understandable, but leads to nothing.

True environmental change in a developing country is something that can only come from within the mining sector itself, not imposed by external parties.

The environment can be very different from a miner’s perspective from that of an environmentalist. For the miner, the most important thing the environment has to offer are the minerals lying under the soil in their concession. For society, NGOs and ministries of the environment, who see the Earth’s natural biodiversity and a healthy living environment for the local communities are more important than its economic role often regard the miner as a disruptive element.

To find a balance between the environmental impact of mining with its economic benefits, countries have created legislation to govern mining companies’ environmental management obligations. Important existing mining regulations from Canada, the International Finance Cooperation (IFC), Australia and, for example, the DRC (Mining Code and regulations) provide a legal framework for monitoring environmental emissions to air and water. Regulations on how to deal with waste from excavations and treatment processes will also apply to domestic waste. Environmental emissions such as a mine’s effluent into surface water are measured by a fixed set of parameters including pH levels (a measure of how acidic/basic water is) and concentrations of metals (such as iron, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, etc.).

Enforcing environmental regulations has been a great challenge in the DRC over the past years. Yet in the recent past, the enforcing authorities have steadily grown stronger in their capacity. Still, despite this increased institutional capacity and willingness, a lot remains to be done. What we are seeing more and more of, is mining companies changing their attitude towards environmental policy, and for the better. This is a change from within the company itself,  something too often forgotten.

Stefano Hernes

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