Mining and socio-environmental issues in Latin America: Community-based environmental monitoring as a tool to build transparency and trust

October 31, 2018

Photo: Josu Ansoleaga / UNDP

Panama City, 29 October 2018 – For many developing countries, mineral extraction continues to be an important economic driver with the potential to improve human development outcomes, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). When managed appropriately, mining can create jobs, foster innovation, and bring investment and infrastructure at a game-changing scale over the long term. Yet, if managed poorly, mining can also lead to environmental degradation, displaced populations, and increased inequality.

A recent report of the Canadian International Resources and Development Institute revealed that socio-environmental conflicts in mining regions have been on the rise in the last 10 years, particularly in Latin America. A compilation and analysis of 167 conflict incidents documented in 2012 and 2013 indicate that most conflicts incidents occurred in Latin America (46%) followed by Africa (24%) and then Asia (17%). These conflicts negatively affect communities near or downstream from mining operations, as well as private sector and governments. Governments are hindered from taking full advantage of the social and economic development benefits that mining can bring to a region and a country.

In many parts of Latin America, communities are working towards finding solutions to these issues by carrying out participatory environmental monitoring initiatives, which are community-based collaborative processes for collecting and analysing data, and communicating the results, to identify and solve problems in mining-affected areas. Moreover, participatory environmental monitoring initiatives provide spaces that foster community dialogue, engagement, trust-building, and transparency.

With that in mind, UNDP, in collaboration with the Canadian International Resources and Development Institute (CIRDI), conducted a regional study on Participatory Environmental Monitoring Committees (PEMCs), including cases from Argentina, Bolivia, Panama and Peru. Preliminary findings from the regional study highlight the institutional, financial, and legal barriers for establishing PEMCs; the technical and organisational complexities of conducting environmental monitoring; and the multiple purposes of PEMCs beyond environmental monitoring.

To validate and deepen the preliminary findings from the regional study, from October 3-5, 2018 in Panama City, UNDP organised a “Regional Workshop on Participatory Environmental Governance for Sustainable Natural Resources Management in the Latin American and Caribbean Region, with a focus on PEMCs.” This workshop served as a space for exchanging experiences from the PEMC cases included in the regional study, as well as an opportunity to distil good practices and identify common gaps.

Key topics discussed during the workshop included issues related to the importance of formalisation and autonomy of PEMCs, funding challenges, as well as technical capacity needs and the importance of having spaces for dialogue and exchange of PEMC best practices at the community, national, and international level. During the workshop sessions, over 40 participants, including PEMC representatives from the case study countries and NGO technical experts, collaboratively developed ideas for improving PEMCs effectiveness and set the foundations for a professional support network. The planning of the workshop sessions benefited from the technical expertise from partner organisations such as CIRDI, Grupo de Diálogo Latinoamericano (GDL), and the University of British Columbia (UBC).

Photo: Josu Ansoleaga / UNDP

The delivery of this regional PEMC study and workshop has been undertaken as a component of a multi-year global programme on Environmental Governance for Sustainable Natural Resource Management. This programme is jointly implemented by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) and UNDP, funded by the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) from 2015-2019.