Socio-Economic Transition for Mine Closure in Canada—Investigating Standards-based Solutions

Citation

  • Squires, C., Reinecke, S., Meyer, S. (2022). Socio-Economic Transition for Mine Closure in Canada—Investigating Standards-based Solutions. Canadian Standards Association, Toronto, ON.

Executive Summary

Within Canada and globally, demand and attention is increasing for minerals and metals sourced in both an environmentally and socially responsible way. Mining companies are subsequently under increasing pressure to take more responsibility for their impact on communities and to go beyond their regulatory obligations, including leaving a positive economic and social legacy beyond the life of mine. In Canada, this work also, importantly, needs to respect Indigenous rights and offers opportunities for Indigenous peoples to work in partnership on mining development. This context provides an opportunity for governments, Indigenous rightsholders, industry, and others in the sector to reflect on successes and challenges and respond to these opportunities and expectations in a way that improves outcomes for communities and builds Canada’s mining leadership and expertise.

In 2020, CSA Group published a research report that identified and characterized the needs and gaps related to expectations and requirements for mining in Canada in the areas of environmental protection and management, mining innovation, and sustainability. The report discussed several areas where standards could potentially address gaps and needs, including socio-economic transition for mine closure (also referred to as social closure or social transition), an area that encompasses the steps taken to address socio-economic impacts of mine closure on workers, communities, rightsholders, and other stakeholders, and to maximize opportunities to build or sustain positive socio-economic legacies post-closure. This research report seeks to advance two objectives from the 2020 CSA Group report:

  1. Conduct an analysis of the socio-economic transition landscape through a review of both the literature and practical experiences to identify the needs, benefits, potential stakeholders, and leading best practices in this area; and
  2. Provide recommendations on the need for and potential content of a standard or guideline to help Canadian communities, mining companies, and governments better plan for and address the socio-economic transition of a closed mine site.

The research conducted for this report included a review of published documents and articles related to socio-economic transition, and interviews with key informants from industry, government (federal, territorial, Indigenous, and municipal), academia, and social practitioners.

The results show that there is a growing need to plan for socio-economic transition for mine closure, which should be driven by community and mining shareholder expectations to deliver value throughout the mine cycle and to adopt integrated closure practices. Key informants highlighted deficiencies in current practice and outlined a range of barriers and challenges, mostly brought about by the complex nature of the topic itself and the need for multi-stakeholder involvement. There was broad agreement that the practice of socio-economic transition for mine closure would benefit from better definition, structure, and guidance, especially around supporting collaborative transition strategies with communities and government, resourcing internal closure teams, and doing early engagement on socio-economic transition.

Challenges to developing and implementing a standard or guideline in this area include the highly contextual nature of socio-economic transition and the limited body of practice, documented experiences, and examples of success on which to base guidance. The consensus among key informants was that a guideline incorporating best practice and lessons learned would be most beneficial in addressing needs and driving performance in this area.

In terms of potential content, findings from the research suggest that any guidance developed for socio-economic transition for mine closure in Canada should be framed by the following considerations:

  • ensuring relevance in the Canadian context;
  • being flexible and complementary to existing requirements and plans;
  • allowing for continuous improvement and evolution; and
  • being process-focused.

In addition, key informant observations suggest that the following high-level process elements could inform the development of a potential guideline or standard to address socio-economic transition for mine closure:

  1. Early and ongoing engagement;
  2. Multi-stakeholder collaboration;
  3. Alignment with community and other external plans; and
  4. Internal governance and expertise.

These process elements could be further validated, refined, and elaborated as part of a collaborative standard or guideline development process involving industry, government, community organizations, Indigenous rightsholders, and other mining stakeholders.