ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMISSION FOR ASIA AND THE PACIFIC
EMERGING ISSUES AND DEVELOPMENTS AT THE REGIONAL LEVEL:
(Item 7 (b) of the provisional agenda)
EMERGING ISSUES AND DEVELOPMENTS RELATED TO MINERAL SUPPLY AND LAND-USE PLANNING FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
Note by the secretariat
1. The Asian financial crisis that engulfed the region in 1997 drastically reduced the volume of trade and the prices of basic commodities, including minerals. Furthermore, investment flows to the region also fell, significantly undermining its economic progress. Consequently in 1998, developing economies overall achieved a zero growth rate.
2. However, the above situation showed a turnaround in 1999 and it is expected that by the end of the year 2000 there will be a steady recovery of stock markets and currencies, moderate inflation, a downward trend in interest rates, expansionary fiscal policies and increased foreign exchange reserves, resulting in an increased volume of trade and industrial output that will trigger the reactivation of the mineral industry.
3. Emerging issues that would impede sustainable mineral resources development have been discussed under five subtopics: (a) emerging issues with regard to foreign investment flows in the mineral sector; (b) international environmental law constraints and the impact on recycling for secondary metals; (c) environmental costs related to life-cycle analysis from mining to finished mineral products; (d) decentralization of mineral resources development from central government to provinces and the sharing of resource rent; and (e) emerging socio-economic issues and strengthening the partnerships of all stakeholders.
4. An overview of the above issues in the Asian and Pacific region was carried out with the objective of stimulating discussion on plans and action to be undertaken to address these issues in the countries concerned.
5. The ever-growing world population renders the management of increasingly scarce land resources more and more crucial. Agenda 21 of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development has anticipated this need and urged member countries to use all the knowledge and information available on land and its resources to alleviate wrong and wasteful types of land use and ensure that its development is sustainable. In the present document, the broader, integrative view of land resources as defined in Agenda 21 is used.(1) In land-use planning, there are both resource and hazard aspects to consider when determining whether or not a particular stretch of land is suitable for a certain type of use.
6. Land is valued for the space it provides, in other words, for its real-estate value, which on occasion exceeds the estimated value of the mineral resources or natural construction materials that it contains. In some cases, the environmental value of land may exceed the value of its mineral resources as well. Whatever the resource value of land, geology-related natural hazards must also be considered and may further limit the options of land-use planners. Some geology-related hazards and countermeasures are highlighted in the document.
7. National geological survey departments often already possess most of the relevant knowledge, but do not always report the information in a suitable format, such as easy-to-read thematic maps. Moreover, geological departments are not always in regular contact with planning institutions and decision makers. Such interdepartmental communication is crucial to avoid the adverse impacts of ill-informed planning, examples of which are touched upon later.
8. To enhance the presentation and communication skills of geoscientists while raising the awareness levels of decision makers, densely populated urban areas should be targeted. The Forum on Urban Geology in Asia and the Pacific proved instrumental not only in raising the awareness levels of local authorities and geoscience institutions, but also in inducing national and local governments to commit their human and financial resources to ensure a regular supply of geological information for incorporation in the urban planning process.
9. Countries that have participated early in this particular ESCAP programme have made markedly faster progress in integrating geology into urban planning than those that have not. It may be beneficial to redirect ongoing activities to countries that have had less opportunity to participate, while making use of the expertise already built up in those that have had a head start, supplemented by assistance from supporting countries outside the region. This approach should include technical cooperation among developing countries, and may constitute a model for cooperation between subregions with clear socio-economic benefits, both immediate and long-term.
10. In the review of mineral policy and mining legislation carried out during the period 1985-1990 in most developing countries of the region with mineral endowments, the international mining companies showed increased interest in investing in mineral exploration. As a result, a significant volume of capital flowed into the region, particularly to China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines and Viet Nam. However, in 1997, this flow slowed and even stopped in some areas owing to the financial crisis and the unfolding of a scandal by a junior exploration company in Indonesia.(2) At the same time, a downward trend in metal prices, in particular of gold, has further aggravated the situation.
11. Early in 1999, however, there were indications that investment flows were improving and that most countries were bringing in new legislation to strengthen investor confidence by adopting new rules for reporting ore reserves (the United Nations Framework Classification for Reserves/Resources: Solid Fuels and Mineral Commodities), registering junior mining companies in national stock exchanges to obtain risk capital for exploration, and independent assessment of exploration results.
12. The overall foreign and local investment climate for the mineral sector during the first decade of the new millennium may be considered encouraging, with countries such as China, India, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and Thailand competing for such capital flows.
13. The recovery of secondary metals is an important trade worldwide, with an estimated annual turnover of over US$ 37 billion.(3) This is very significant for major importers and exporters such as Japan and the Republic of Korea. This trade has many advantages, such as a decrease in demand for primary ores/minerals, the elimination of waste on land, the lowering of fixed capital investment on mines and refineries, and the provision of raw material for the further processing of metals. However, environmentalists and some government decision makers consider secondary metals to be "hazardous waste" and a threat to the environment.
14. During the 1980s, transboundary trade in hazardous waste and toxic waste dumping in developing countries by the developed countries created serious and national concern, which triggered the enactment of multilateral environmental agreements and national laws to address the issue. Such agreements may be categorized as those promoting transboundary trade; those that totally ban the trade; and those that merely seek to regulate the trade, such as the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal adopted in 1989. At present, 129 countries, including European Union members, are parties to the Convention; Brunei Darussalam and the United States of America are not parties to the Convention.
15. In 1995, the Basel Conference of Parties voted to create an Annex VII list of 30 (members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and the European Union) developed countries and ban all shipments for the disposal of hazardous waste from them to non-Annex VII parties immediately, and by the end of 1997 for recovery. However, the "Basel Ban" is not effective as it still needs ratification by some 62 countries. To date, 12 countries (Nordic countries, the European Union and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) have ratified the ban. It is opposed by Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and the United States of America; none of the countries in the Asian and Pacific region, except for Sri Lanka, has ratified the ban. However, in 1998, the European Union unilaterally put the ban into legal effect for its member countries.
16. In the light of the foregoing, the major issues facing the recycling of secondary metals are (a) an inadequate definition of hazardous waste; (b) the absence of a liability and compensation protocol; (c) trade expansion through article II of the Basel Convention; and (d) World Trade Organization (WTO) free trade stipulations.
17. In 1998, in order to address the issue of the inadequate definition of hazardous waste, the Basel Conference of Parties created two lists of hazardous waste: List A or Annex VIII (toxic) and List B or Annex IX (non-toxic), to which secondary metals belong. The remaining issues are being negotiated, and no final decisions have yet been taken by the Conference of Parties. As the "Basel Ban" may be viewed as a discriminatory trade barrier, it may be inconsistent with the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade/WTO free trade rulings.
18. Life-cycle, or "cradle-to-grave", analysis is an important tool for environmental management in the mineral sector, which can be applied to mining, mineral processing and smelting, and the manufacture of mineral-based products.
19. Some countries in the region are striving to standardize the methodology of life-cycle analysis by adopting the ISO 14040 series, according to which the analysis should consist of (a) goal and scope of definition; (b) inventory analysis; (c) impact assessment; and (d) interpretation.
20. The major barriers to the development of life-cycle analysis in the developing countries of Asia and the Pacific are the lack of proper understanding of its importance, the lack of cooperation in data-sharing, and financial constraints.
21. Factors to improve the development and application of such analysis include government support; standardized methodology for life-cycle analysis; the availability of expertise and guidance; and international cooperation for data management and regional impact assessment models.
22. In most countries of the ESCAP region, major development projects concerning metallic and non-metallic minerals do not bring any economic benefits to the local people. Resistance to such resource development intensified with the occurrence of the Asian economic crisis, which reduced resource allocations to provincial authorities by national governments.(4)
23. Some governments, particularly those of Indonesia and the Philippines, have felt that there is an urgent need to address decentralization and revenue-sharing issues, and have undertaken studies for sharing resource rentals such as royalties, land rent payment for the use of infrastructure and activities through their national geological survey and mines bureaux.
24. In the Philippines, the legal framework for decentralization and resource rent revenue-sharing is set forth in the provisions of the Local Government Code of 1991. Some of the problems of decentralization include unequal allocation of resources between cities/barangays and provinces/municipalities;(5) delays in provincial government deliberations; increased involvement of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and private sector representatives; and the inability of the provincial authorities to be actively involved in environmental management.
25. In Indonesia, the government enacted two major laws in 1999, the Law of Regional Autonomy and the Law on Intergovernmental Fiscal Relations. The first law grants extensive authority to 26 provinces in all matters including small-scale mining except defence, foreign, judicial, monetary and religious affairs. The second law, to be enforced by the Ministry of Finance, will provide a specific share of revenues from oil, gas and mining development to mineral resource-rich provinces.
26. The globalization of the mineral industry during the last decade has created some socio-economic issues that called for the strengthening of partnerships between all stakeholders, including the government, the private sector, host communities, miners, lending agencies and NGOs
27. An upsurge of illicit small and artisanal mining operations in some countries has partly resulted from the recent economic downturn. Such operations focus mainly on precious metals, such as gold. As mining is often the only source of income for people who live below the poverty line, illicit mining operations have to be regularized in remote areas where host communities are involved.
28. Several countries are now planning to enact new laws and regulations for small-scale and artisanal mining operations, while assistance is being sought from United Nations agencies and donor countries to combat mercury and arsenic contamination arising from illicit gold mining.
29. To address the socio-economic problems related to mineral resources development, it is imperative that partnerships between all stakeholders be strengthened. This would contribute significantly towards curbing environmental degradation resulting from mining.
30. Most modern land-use planning aims at an optimum distribution of the population and its activities. To reach this goal, it is necessary to strive for the optimum and integrated management of natural resources, and try to adapt infrastructure and housing projects to environmental conditions. The final objective of such plans should be the long-term optimization of master plans, the protection and rehabilitation of vulnerable areas and the prevention of natural disasters and pollution.
31. Geology plays an increasingly important role in this. The soil and the subsurface form a physical environment of great diversity and development potential, but one that is at the same time very fragile. In this context, space and landscape, water, energy and mineral resources, the environmental-bearing capacity of towns and infrastructure, and the potential for receiving and confining human waste products are all potentially valuable resource elements. However, those resources are limited and mostly non-renewable, vulnerable and already partly degraded by human activity. It is therefore necessary to rationalize and optimize their use through the sustainable development of subsurface resources; the rational organization of space, amenities and construction; the protection and rehabilitation of vulnerable space; and the prevention of hazards affecting the subsurface.
32. Subsurface resources should be taken into account in any land-use development policy, regardless of whether such resources play a positive role in the economic development and satisfy a demand, or whether they place restrictions on land use. Geology, while making use of many different disciplines such as metallogeny, geothermal-energy development, hydrogeology, geochemistry, geophysics or geotechnical engineering, will be able to identify and evaluate such resources, as well their quality and lifespan. Furthermore, geology will help set guidelines for environmental preservation and for the sustainable management and protection of any renewable resources.
33. Groundwater is a natural resource with a rather constant quality. Therefore, in many urban areas drinking water is mostly groundwater, which is often exploited without considering the recharge capacity of the aquifer, or the impact of such exploitation on wet-lands, river flow and ground subsidence. Aquifers can also be vulnerable to pollution, depending on the overlying ground characteristics. Groundwater resources are important not only to the economy but also in the equilibrium of ecosystems, and must therefore be considered in conjunction with surface water when drawing up land-use plans.
34. Many countries possess a wealth of thermal and mineral waters at sites that may have therapeutic value and attract tourists as well. In parallel with the growing demand for mineral water by urban populations, thermal water requirements grow with the influx of tourists. Such resources may dwindle and degrade rapidly, as they are highly vulnerable to pollution. Plans for the creation of spas and mineral-water exploitation must therefore be thoroughly scrutinized.
35. In parts of the region, notably in Bangladesh, China and India, groundwater was seen as a way out of surface-water pollution problems, which caused much suffering to their mostly rural population. The use of groundwater has indeed substantially reduced the number of deaths due to water-borne diseases. However, as is well publicized,(6) a large number of tube wells in Bangladesh now produce water containing increasing amounts of arsenic, causing widespread health problems such as skin lesions, and eventually death, among the population. As the phenomenon only surfaced after the tube wells had been in use for years, it has been impossible to predict whether or not a certain well would be safe in the long term. An international effort would be required to determine the precise conditions under which this toxic element becomes mobile and to identify the exact geological formations in which those conditions prevail. Only with such a predictive capability may further groundwater use for public consumption be sanctioned in vulnerable areas.
36. In the present context, mineral resources are mentioned only as far as they affect the value of overlying land, restrict current or sequential land use, or may pollute the soil, groundwater and surface water, and the atmosphere. Thorough geological surveys are needed to determine both the economic and environmental aspects of a potential mine or a particular mineral deposit. Another problem is the sterilization of mineral resources, which can occur when engaging in construction before proper mineral resources assessment has taken place for that location.
37. Sterilization by overlying construction is common in the case of natural building materials, such as sand or gravel, occurring at a shallow depth. The same construction projects often import sand or gravel from far away, thus driving up the price unnecessarily. Again, a simple geological survey of the area would have resulted in large savings.
38. Aggregate and related materials are needed for housing and infrastructure projects, but such heavy materials, with their low initial value, have to be destined for nearby markets. The environmental impact of excavating them, usually from open quarries and sometimes from streams, and the chance of finding substitute materials, have prompted local authorities in some countries to develop their own plans for aggregate quarries, in partnership with private enterprise.
39. Several sites in the region have been developed for the production of hydroelectric power, either based on the relief and hydrologic potential of the catchment area or on the geological (geotechnical) quality of the host rock for dams and reservoirs. Although many major hydroelectric infrastructure elements have been built, the construction of hydropower installations remains an option at the regional level.
40. The 1970s saw some experiments with subsurface geothermal heat-generation networks for heating entire urban districts. The technical difficulties of this process have slowed such geothermal development. However, enormous technical advances have since been made and geothermal energy is now considered a viable alternative, as testified by a resumption of activity in New Zealand and the United States of America.
41. Another possibility lies in hot (dry) rock in areas with a strong geothermal gradient; research into this alternative is progressing and might lead to new auxiliary energy sources. Recent work in Hawaii indicates that volcanoes may constitute an interesting energy source that merits further geological investigation.
E. Potential uses of underground properties
42. Considering soil and subsurface properties is not entirely new in land-use planning, but should be generally adopted to ensure better environmental protection and sustainable development. This means better use of the subsurface, which translates into preservation of landscapes and ecosystems, energy savings, human health and safety.
43. Underground storage of products not only brings improved security conditions but also saves space on the surface. The many rock types that exist make it possible, for example, to store natural gas in highly porous aquifer formations, to store liquids in cavities excavated in impermeable formations, and to dispose of toxic or solid waste in rock formations.
44. Current technology for excavating underground cavities has made feasible the construction of underground transportation routes, car parks and other installations, leading to new concepts of underground urban development. The stable temperature underground is another advantage for the storage of products. Temporary subsurface storage of surface water is a newly emerging possibility, whether for recharging aquifers supplying domestic water or for handling excess rainwater to avoid flooding, or to avoid pollution from urban/industrial runoff. Research into the purifying properties of certain soils and geological environments may eventually contribute to the cleaning of effluents at very low cost.(7)
45. Reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in order to control the overall levels of CO2 in the atmosphere has become an international priority in the wake of the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, adopted in 1997. Recent geological studies(8) have demonstrated the economic and technical feasibility of reducing greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere by the underground storage of CO2, either in saline aquifers or in depleted oil and gas fields.
46. Some attributes required for a rational use of the subsurface are straightforward, such as ground suitable for building foundations. Other potentially favourable properties are only found in areas with a specific geological setting, such as formations with the properties required for confining or trapping toxic compounds. Geological surveys should be mandated to ensure that sites with such potential are identified and mapped well in advance for incorporation in land-use planning and to avoid their sterilization by other types of land use.
47. Prevailing geological conditions with active crustal plate boundaries render the ESCAP region prone to various natural hazards. Prominent among those geology-related hazards are earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides, tsunamis, mud or debris flows, glacial lake bursts etc. All of these are potentially catastrophic, particularly if known information about those hazards collected by the geological survey departments is heeded neither by the population nor by the authorities.
48. Although these natural hazards themselves cannot be made to disappear, they do not have to develop into disasters. Disasters are inevitable only when people, possessions and productive assets are put at risk in hazard zones, but those are essentially human decisions. As geology-related hazards are attributes directly linked to location, hazard mapping is feasible and should be made mandatory in densely populated areas or areas that are soon to be urbanized. Maps delineating zones having different hazard levels are essential tools in preventing disasters, by enabling the authorities to ensure that people and property are not put at risk in hazard zones.
49. Seismic, volcanic or landslide hazard maps are straightforward and easy for the authorities, other professionals and the public to understand. The information needed for making such maps is mostly already on file in national geological survey departments. Often all that is needed is a dedicated effort to put those data in an easily digestible form: the thematic hazard map. Geographic information systems (GIS) technology is now readily available, affordable and easier to master than ever, and has already served to mitigate disasters. GIS for making hazard maps should empower land-use planners in partnership with geoscientists. Funding GIS can be justified by highlighting the huge potential savings in human lives and assets.
50. The space beneath our feet is an integral part of the human environment and a foundation to most amenities and activities, but is also surprisingly fragile, and this has mostly been ignored by developers. Disregarding the vulnerability, heterogeneity and relative instability of the subsurface has costly consequences, particularly if geological resources are degraded, which may compromise sustainable development.
51. Groundwater pollution is well-known, but in contrast to surface water, which recovers its initial quality once the polluting source has disappeared, the regeneration of groundwater quality takes decades. Some aquifers are protected by impermeable ground that shields them from the surface. Others are exposed to contamination and adversely affected by human activity, such as agricultural use of fertilizers and pesticides; industrial use of compounds that can migrate through soil (hydrocarbons, solvents, mineral salts or heavy metals); disposal of urban or industrial waste; or poorly controlled sanitation, such as leaking sewerage systems or ill-designed septic tanks. It is therefore essential for land-use planners and decision makers to respect the restrictions imposed by the soil and subsurface characteristics reported by geologists.
52. Soil pollution below derelict industrial or mining sites, storage areas for toxic products (especially hydrocarbons), or abandoned landfill sites can present a risk to health, which is even more insidious as the systematic evaluation of the chemical quality of soil is not yet routine. To make amends, geological departments should conduct baseline surveys to make an inventory of the natural geochemistry of soil and subsurface as well as old pollution sites, to enable sustainable development planning that would ensure human health and safety for the next generations.
53. The geotechnical properties of the ground directly affect the foundation costs of buildings or the excavation costs of underground amenities. Ground subsidence can be a major problem in marshy areas or in areas underlain by karst (weathered limestone forming underground cavities). Damage to structures founded on clay that is sensitive to variations in its water content can be costly indeed, especially during cyclical climate variations (wet versus dry years). Plans for land-use development should take account of this, as well as the relative instability and heterogeneity of underlying geological formations, in order to avoid such serious risks.
54. The problems due to ground subsidence in cities of the ESCAP region commonly result from overexploitation of groundwater resources that cannot meet the water supply demands of urban populations. The resulting shrinkage of the underlying clay is irreversible and creates a "subsidence bowl" lacking natural drainage, causing periodic flooding of urban areas in the rainy season. Differential ground subsidence causes sewerage systems to tilt in the wrong direction, thus creating blockage and frequent breakage of pipes, which releases raw sewage into the flood waters, posing a grave health risk. Central or local governments that intend to avoid such regrettably common health hazards in the future may support the creation of urban geological advisory teams with direct links to urban planning departments.
55. Chapter I of this document focused on the emerging issues related to the sustainable development of mineral resources to ensure a balance between supply/demand scenarios as projected for the next decade. Studies conducted by ESCAP indicate that the Asian and Pacific region, excluding Australia, is poor in base metals and that future sources of supply will come from South America.
56. The issues that have been covered, such as foreign investment flows, restrictions on recycling of metals owing to stringent international environmental laws, environmental costs related to life-cycle analysis, decentralization of mineral resources development and sharing of resource rent, would play a significant role in the future exploitation of mineral resource endowments, especially the scarce base metals in the region.
57. The secretariat would like to seek the advice and guidance of the Commission on the future directions that would ensure proper understanding of the issues highlighted in the present document. To this end, it is recommended that the governments in the region should actively pursue the developments related to the Basel Convention and the "Basel Ban", as well as other issues such as life-cycle analysis, and socio-economic issues that may lead to discriminatory mineral trade practices. The issues related to decentralization and the sharing of resource rent are being studied extensively and remedial measures taken in Indonesia and the Philippines. Those two models could be studied by other countries so as to evolve a common position. The ESCAP secretariat, if requested to do so, could initiate a regional study to identify an appropriate regime for such activity by the member states.
58. The document has also covered issues emerging in land-use planning for sustainable economic development, as based on the integrative view of land, which includes the resources it contains, such as soil, minerals, water and biota; underground space is emerging as an additional land resource with diverse development potential.
59. Direct communication between land-use planners and geoscientists is crucial in order to guarantee the incorporation of geological conditions in land-use planning for sustainable economic development. Authorities are advised to promote such direct, "horizontal" links between the two professional communities.
60. Support for and participation in the Forum on Urban Geology in Asia and the Pacific would be instrumental in establishing and maintaining the crucial dialogue between the planners and the geoscience community at an international level. This would guarantee the sharing of the relevant know-how accumulated in countries with more experience in the integration of geology in land-use/urban planning.
61. Some central and particularly local governments have started establishing their own geology-for-urban-planning programmes, either self-financed or funded from bilateral sources. Their example would be worth emulating in order to enhance the quality of urban planning and stave off the disastrous results of ill-informed decision-making.
62. Many different potential uses of underground space have emerged. Governments would guarantee the rational use of this resource by mandating routine geological surveys to identify and map the conditions required for such novel uses, well in advance of actual development decisions.
63. Groundwater resources, although a commonly clean and relatively cheap water supply source, will increasingly need to be combined with surface water in order to avoid the adverse effects of groundwater overexploitation, notably the salinization of groundwater, ground subsidence and resultant urban flooding.
64. Members with a problem of naturally occurring arsenic in groundwater used for domestic drinking water may benefit from comparative stratigraphic studies at the international level in affected areas to identify precisely the geological formations that release the arsenic into the water supply, in order to enable authorities to recognize and avoid potentially toxic sources.
1. See chapter 10 of Agenda 21: Programme of Action for Sustainable Development: Final Text of Agreements Negotiated by Governments at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1992 (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.93.I.11).
2. P.G. Bakker, "Review of policies, strategies and activities in sustainable development of land and mineral resources", paper presented at the Ad Hoc Expert Group Meeting on Policies and Strategies in Sustainable Development of Land and Mineral Resources in the Asian and Pacific Region, Bangkok, November 1999 (to be published in volume 6 of the ESCAP Mineral Resources Assessment, Development and Management Series).
3. George (Rock) Pring, "Trends in restricted usage of metals: increasing international environmental law limitations on trade in secondary metals for recycling", report prepared for the Metal Mining Agency of Japan and presented at the Third Environmental Cooperation Workshop for Sustainable Development of Mining Activities, held at Cairns, Australia, from 5-7 October 1999, organized by the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Expert Group on Minerals and Energy Exploration and Development.
4. Allen L. Clark, Government Decentralization and Resource Rent Revenue Sharing: Issues and Policy, East-West Center Occasional Papers, Economic Series, No. 1, November 1999 (East-West Center, Hawaii, United States of America).
6. Phase I, Groundwater Studies of Arsenic Contamination in Bangladesh (West Bengal and Bangladesh Arsenic Crisis Information Centre), available at <http://bicn.com/acic/infobank/bgs-mmi/risumm.html>.
7. Bureau de Recherches Géologiques et Minières, "Geology and land-use development", to be published as chapter VIII of volume 6 of the ESCAP Mineral Resources Assessment Development and Management Series.
8. "Costs of CO2 sequestration by underground storage". Information, December 1999, newsletter of the Netherlands Institute of Applied Science TNO-National Geological Survey.