The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member countries, government officials and experts from Laos convened at a workshop earlier this year to discuss international standards for sustainable mine closures.

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A clear and effective mine closure framework has far reaching benefits

The three-day workshop on a mine closure legal framework in ASEAN member states was opened in Vientiane, Laos, by the Deputy Minister of Energy and Mines, Mr Chansone Senbouttalath and the German Ambassador to Laos, Mr Jens Lütkenherm.

The workshop has been organised by the Department of Mines, Ministry of Energy and Mines in cooperation with the ASEAN Secretariat and the Coordinating Committee for Geoscience Programmes in East and Southeast Asia.

With more than 600 million consumers, ASEAN has a large industry base that can offer vast opportunities for investment and trade in the region’s rich mineral resources. ASEAN’s 2014 Nay Pyi Taw Declaration stipulates that mineral development is pivotal in “strengthening ASEAN unity and solidarity” as well as playing a central role in maintaining and promoting economic integration in the region.

Over the years, the countries have acknowledged that non-sustainable mining not only poses severe environmental pollution, but also yields negative social impacts and investor backlash.

An integral part of mining operations also includes the closure of a mine and can occur at any stage of mine cycle operations.

Historically, the closure of a mine has been an uncontrolled process, with equipment and materials without salvage value abandoned in place, mine openings left unattended and nature assumed to reclaim the lands on its own.

The global history of abandoned sites and their consequences has resulted in the rise of regulations intended to prevent abandonment and ensure that mine sites are closed in a safe and sustainable manner. The global development of these regulations has been uneven, with some jurisdictions still having little or no regulation in the matter, while others possess a robust governance framework.

The mine closure process is an integral part of any mineral project and includes decommissioning and rehabilitation activities. Mine closure can occur at any stage of mine cycle operations.

In Quarter 1 of this year, the APEC Mining Task Force – with support from Natural Resources Canada and Golder Associates – released the Mine Closure Checklist for Governments.

The objective of the Mine Closure Checklist for Governments is to provide policy makers in the APEC region with the essential elements of a successful mine closure governance framework based on leading international guidelines and standards, as well as international experience. The checklist is designed to provide a logical, sequential series of steps that will allow policy makers to identify gaps in their current mine closure framework and identify how to address those gaps.

The taskforce believes that “a clear, effective mine closure framework will help protect the environment and interests of the community and will also encourage the benefits that are brought by investment and development of mining opportunities”.

Current world models for mine closure policy cannot be easily, if at all, applied in the APEC region. Many of the developed nations have relatively advanced closure polices that are supported by well-funded and robust regulatory bodies – something that may not exist in the APEC region. Furthermore, the closure policy for some smaller nations may contain prescriptive elements that are only applicable within a relatively limited climatic or geographical zone.

The Mine Closure Checklist for Governments is intended for both technical and non-technical government members and advisers with an interest in mine closure, guiding government policies with respect to mine closure and how these policies should be implemented and sustained including administration and governance.

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