The very first workshop launching the European Network for Sustainable Quarrying and Mining took place on 9 February, in Spain.
More than 100 representatives from the European Commission, the Spanish government, civil society, and the Spanish and European extractive industries contributed to make the event a success.
The objective was to establish an open dialogue between the above-mentioned stakeholders to identify the challenges and solutions for raw materials extraction in protected natural areas. The workshop particularly tackled the issues related to biodiversity protection and the interpretation of article 6 of the Habitats Directive. The latter deals with the proactive conservation of designated natural areas (the Natura 2000 network) and the principle of non-deterioration. In many EU countries, that interpretation is too narrow, rendering those areas hermetic to any industrial activity.
All stakeholders shared the view that misperception and failed communication are the reasons for a lack of acceptance of industrial activity in Natura 2000 areas. The extractive industry is often perceived as having a negative impact on the environment. Yet, it is one of the most regulated, and one of the most sustainable worldwide. Some of the European natural reserves exist because of sustainability initiatives and biodiversity restoration plans undertaken by companies. Several examples, e.g. from Portugal and Belgium, illustrated this compatibility, demonstrating that Natura 2000 areas can come into being and can evolve.
On behalf of the European Commission, Nicola Notaro (DG CLIMA) and Flor Diaz Pulido (DG GROW) both stressed the fact that the Natura 2000 Network is no sanctuary, but is compatible with economic activity. As much as the EU aims to champion environmental protection, it also wants to sustain its domestic supply of raw materials. Owing to geology, some of those resources are located in conservation areas, which is even more likely if those cover a large part of the land available (18% in Spain). It is, thus, our challenge to figure out how to access and exploit them, while causing little to no damage to the environment and restoring a heaven for the flora and fauna after extraction is done.
The workshop concluded that dialogue and communication with all stakeholders involved and towards the public at large are crucial. It is by improving the image of the extractive industry that we will facilitate social acceptance. The European Commission also shared the outcome of the fitness check of the Birds and Habitats Directives, which called on to focus on better implementation than on a revision.
The Spanish confederation of extractive industries will be organising similar workshops at regional level, so as to reach out to the different levels of governance.
The next country to establish this dialogue will be Germany, in early 2018.
For more information about the European Network for Sustainable Quarrying and Mining, please visit http://ensqm.weebly.com/.