The Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management, which establishes the first global standard on tailings management that can be applied to existing and future tailings facilities, was officially launched on August 5 after a year-and-a-half-long review process. Strengthening current practices in the mining industry by integrating social, environmental, local economic and technical considerations, the standard covers the entire tailings facility lifecycle — from site selection, design and construction, through management and monitoring, to closure and post-closure.

With an ambition of zero harm to people and the environment, the standard raises the bar for the industry to achieve strong social, environmental and technical outcomes. It elevates accountability levels and adds new requirements for independent oversight. The standard also establishes clear expectations around global transparency and disclosure requirements, helping to improve understanding by interested stakeholders.

The Standard was developed through an independent process — the Global Tailings Review (GTR) — which was co-convened in March 2019 by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) and International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) following the tragic tailings facility collapse at Brumadinho, Brazil, on January 25, 2019.

The co-conveners have each endorsed it and call for its broad and effective implementation across the industry. UNEP will support governments that wish to incorporate and build upon this standard into their national or state legislation and policies. PRI will be developing investor expectations to support all mining companies in implementing the standard. ICMM member companies will implement the standard as a commitment of membership, which includes robust site-level validation and third-party assessments.

“It is with great pleasure that I present the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management, which sets a precedent for the safe management of tailings facilities, toward the goal of zero harm,” Chair of the Global Tailings Review Dr. Bruno Oberle said. “The catastrophic dam collapse at Vale’s Córrego de Feijão mine in Brumadinho was a human and environmental tragedy that demanded decisive and appropriate action to enhance the safety and strengthen the governance of tailings facilities across the globe.”

“The approach to mine tailings facilities must place safety first by making environmental and human safety a priority in management actions and on-the-ground operations,” Ligia Noronha, director of UNEP’s Economy Division, said. “The Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management is an important milestone toward the ambition of zero harm to people and the environment from tailings facilities. Its impact will depend upon its uptake and UNEP will continue to be engaged in its rollout.”

“For decades, people have called for a global standard that can drive best practice,” Adam Matthews, director of ethics and engagement, investment team, Church of England Pensions Board, said. “It is tragic it has taken the Brumadinho disaster to make this happen, but a unique partnership has come together to address a systemic challenge faced by the mining sector and we are now as committed to make this common practice in all operations.”

The standard will be integrated into ICMM’s existing member commitments, which includes third party assurance and validation, and we are in the process of developing supporting guidance. Members have committed that all facilities with “extreme” or “very high” potential consequences will be in conformance with the standard within three years of today, and all other facilities within five years, according to the ICMM.

The standard covers six key topics: affected communities; integrated knowledge base; design, construction, operation and monitoring of tailings facilities; management and governance; emergency response and long-term recovery; and public disclosure and access to information. These topics contain 15 principles and 77 specific auditable requirements for operators to adhere to.

The launch of the standard is supported by two accompanying documents, published independently by the GTR chair: an in-depth compendium of papers that explore various operational and governance issues related to tailings, and a report on the feedback from the public consultation.

The GTR was chaired by Dr. Oberle with the support of a multidisciplinary expert panel and input from a multi-stakeholder advisory group. It involved extensive public consultation with affected communities, government representatives, investors, multilateral organizations and mining industry stakeholders and is informed by existing good practice and findings from past tailings facility failures.