Blessed are the last for they shall be first!

Mongolia briefing cover
Mongolia briefing cover

Blessed are the last for they shall be first!

How the “last resort” option of biodiversity offsetting has become a key tool for Rio Tinto to legitimise its controversial Oyu Tolgoi copper mine in Southern Gobi Desert in Mongolia

briefing Mongolia
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Whether it is global warming, loss of biodiversity, or other environmental crises, the limits of our planet are becoming more and more evident to us. At the Paris climate conference held in December 2015, parties agreed that we urgently need to limit greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate global warming, but there are different approaches to doing this. One is a fundamental transition of the economy away from fossil fuels. A more moderate option relates to the idea of “net zero emissions”, a concept that implies that the world can continue to produce emissions, as long as there is a way to “offset” them¹.

It is in fact in climate politics that offsetting is used the most. Though, with very limited success². However, the apparent limitations of this concept, have not prevented the mining industry from quickly incorporating it and promoting it to “offset” the negative effects of mining on biodiversity.

As recently proven by international experts³, biodiversity is below safe levels across more than half of the world’s land. Scientists say that habitat destruction has reduced the variety of plants and animals to the point that ecological systems could soon become unable to function properly, with risks for agriculture and human health.

Biodiversity is particularly under threat in those remote areas of the world where mining operations are being increasingly developed in order to extract the last remaining minerals and metals available.

The Oyu Tolgoi mine in Southern Mongolia is a prominent example of biodiversity offsetting, praised as a set of “first-time ever initiatives” by its main project promoter Rio Tinto. Civil society organisations visited the project area in April 2015, in order to observe what was happening on the ground, but the reality was far from convincing.

In spite of the concerns raised by civil society to project financiers, including international public development banks, Rio Tinto decided to move ahead in finalising its offset plans, which still remain questionable both in their logics and feasibility in the Southern Gobi Desert.

Worrying findings coming from new civil society fact-finding missions, and recent plans advanced by project sponsors to expand the mine and build a related coal plant4 raise the urgency to shed light on how biodiversity offsetting is used to cover up severe environmental, social and development impacts associated with the mining project in Mongolia.

This publication has been produced with the financial assistance of the European Union. The contents of this publication is the sole responsibility of Re:Common and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of the European Union.

1 paris-agreement-force-awakened

2 business/blog/why-are-carbon-markets- failing

3 environment/2016/jul/14/biodiversity-below- safe-levels-across-over-half-of-worlds-land- study

4 tolgoi-coal-power-plant

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