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Miners warned commodities boom could harm environment, communities

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SYDNEY — The push by companies and governments to take advantage of the mining boom and global minerals demand could lead to more harm to the environment and communities, an international conference heard on Wednesday.

The comments were made at an international mining conference in Sydney, where more than 7,500 top mining and energy executives, including representatives from global giants like BHP and Shell, are gathered for the first in-person event in about three years.

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Helen Clark, the former New Zealand prime minister and chair of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a global standard for the good governance of oil, gas and mineral resources, said while mining companies, investors and governments are right to view anticipated demand growth as a big opportunity, past mining booms provide a cautionary tale.

“At local levels strong demand growth could push mining into more environmentally and socially sensitive areas,” Clark told the audiences in a speech.

“Pressure to approve new mines quickly could mean not enough time is allocated for consultation and impact assessment. In many countries we are already seeing a move towards streamlined or fast-tracked approval processes, and while the motivations for that may be legitimate there is a risk of harm to communities and environment if there are not enough safeguards,” she said.

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Clark said according to EITI data about half of the 700 active mining projects for transition minerals in the 57 countries implementing the EITI standard are overlapping with conservation areas.

Around 80% of those projects are located near or on territories of indigenous people or other land-connected people, she said.

The three-day event is being held under heavy police security, amid expectations of protests by climate activists and environmental campaigners. Some protesters holding placards who had gathered outside the event venue were refused entry by the police.

Sherry Duhe, the chief financial officer of Australia’s Newcrest Mining, the country’s largest gold miner, said in her keynote address about sustainable growth that the lens is now broader for what the industry must or can do based on legally binding agreements, versus what it should do based on what is ethically right, reasonable, and respectful.

“The legal definition of what’s reasonable works in the court of law, but not necessarily in the court of public opinion,” she said.

“Despite not being a consumer-facing industry, we must ask ourselves: do our actions pass the pub test?” (Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Kim Coghill)

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