The Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE) and the Institute of Sustainable Futures (ISF) held a forum — ‘Addressing the environmental impacts of mining’s past and future’ — at Sydney’s University of Technology on 22 November.
According to an ATSE statement, the mining industry “urgently” needs to address the environmental and economical impact of Australia’s idle mine sites.
“Whether we like it or not, Australians rely on mining to keep up their current lifestyle – our phones, cars and even medical equipment use materials pulled from the earth,” it read.
“But with more than 50,000 abandoned historic mining sites scattered across Australia potentially posing major environmental, safety and financial risks, the mining sector needs to step up and take care of its legacy.”
As discussed by the ATSE, failure to properly regulate the mining industry has meant “thousands” of abandoned mine sites have never been rehabilitated and continue to damage the environment.
Some of the environmental risks touched upon included water quantity and quality, air quality, biodiversity, landscape stability and climate change.
The ATSE recommended the industry focus on three key areas:
- Gaining accountability for mine remediation.
- Improving environmental risk assessments.
- Navigating the public’s trust through more transparency.
It recommended establishing a ‘national abandoned mine initiative’ that would essentially review barriers to remediation of legacy sites and identify priority areas for research.
It added a national inventory of abandoned mines, which would identify any environmental, safety and health risks, should also be developed.
With regards to public trust and transparency, the academy advised the industry to make environmental reporting and data collections publically available.
“[We need to] improve the accountability of environmental management, remediation and closure through real time reporting of planned activities, regulatory compliance and action,” the statement read.
The ATSE is an independent non-profit organisation comprising 800 scientists and engineers from academia, government, industry and research backgrounds. The organisation’s goal is to enhance Australia’s prosperity through technology and innovation.