Environmental and Social Impact Assessments (ESIA)
The Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) is an important process for informing community members and decision-makers in government about how a proposed mine will affect the nearby environment and community.
Mining companies are often required to conduct ESIAs before they can start mining. This involves identifying and assessing the potential negative impacts of the mine and developing a plan to mitigate and manage those impacts. The assessment forms part of government decision-making about whether the project should be approved and under what conditions. A lack of transparency and accountability in ESIAs creates corruption risks with significant consequences.
Corruption is more likely when:
- ESIA reports are not publicly available and there are no clear and transparent criteria for environmental approval > creating space for environmental approvals to be given or denied for political or personal reasons
- The relevant government authority does not have the skills or resources to verify the contents of ESIAs > enabling applicants to knowingly provide incorrect information about the potential impacts of their project
- The relevant government authority is unable to monitor compliance > opening the door for applicants to commit to conditions that they have no intention of fulfilling
VERIFYING ENVIRONMENTAL & SOCIAL IMPACT ASSESSMENTS
How accountable are companies for their environmental and social impacts?
Governments need accurate information about the potential impacts of the mine to determine if it is safe for the project to go ahead and to impose effective conditions to ensure the risks of harm are minimised. Thorough verification of companies’ ESIAs makes it harder for dishonest licence applicants to submit misleading or fraudulent statements or to omit critical information. However, in some cases governments lack the resources or expertise to adequately verify ESIAs.
If an ESIA lacks rigour, omits critical information, contains false or misleading information, or fails to assess project hazards effectively, government decision-makers will not have the information they require to make a suitable decision on whether a mining project should proceed or not on environmental grounds.
Consulting affected communities
Genuine and meaningful consultation with affected communities is a crucial step in the ESIA process.
Community consultation includes engaging in an open dialogue with affected community about the likely negative impacts, as well as potential benefits, identifying ways to reduce harm, such as through environmental monitoring and rehabilitation, and negotiating compensation, resettlement and job opportunities. Unfortunately, mining companies do not always consult properly with affected communities.
Ensuring women's participation
Women’s participation in consultations on ESIAs is critical for gender equality.
Too often women are left out of consultations in the EIA process. This is a problem because women experience environmental and social impacts differently to men. Mining companies need to take a gender-sensitive approach to the identification, assessment and mitigation of environmental and social impacts. This requires them to meaningfully engage women in the process.