The Australian mining industry and the coal mining sector in particular operate in an increasingly challenging environment of changing community expectations, increased governance and public scrutiny. It is in this context that cumulative impacts have assumed growing importance. Cumulative impacts are the successive, incremental and combined impacts (both positive and negative) of an activity on society, the economy and the environment. They can arise from the compounding activities of a single operation or multiple mining and processing operations, as well as the interaction of mining impacts with other past, current and future activities that may not be related to mining. Cumulative impacts are most often raised in the context of multiple mining operations in established mining provinces such as the Bowen Basin and Hunter Valley. However, cumulative impacts may also arise through the interaction of mining with other activities and industries, such as grazing and broad scale agriculture, and thus may arise in emerging and prospective mining regions such as the Surat, Gunnedah and Galilee Basins. In the case of coal, the heightened prominence of climate change, a cumulative impact writ large, adds a further layer of complexity. The Australian coal industry is responding to these challenges by strengthening company and site-level management systems, investing resources in engagement with communities and other external stakeholders, and developing mechanisms for regularly reporting on their social and environmental performance. For the most part, the focus of companies has been on managing the performance of their own operations. Cross-company
collaborations, however, are essential to effectively respond to complex issues that are the result of multiple activities and actors. Collaboration at the national level, through industry associations such as the Minerals Council of Australia and the Australian Coal Association, must also be supported by regional multi-stakeholder partnerships; particularly in established mining areas such as the Hunter Valley and Bowen Basin, where there is a concentration of mining activity, or emerging areas, such as the Gunnedah and Surat Basins where new resource developments are interacting with other significant land uses. A collective approach to the management of cumulative impacts, ideally involving not just mines but government, community and other industries as well, has the potential to produce better sustainable development outcomes.
This guide, which itself is an example of cross-company collaboration, focuses on the opportunities and challenges involved in proactively identifying and responding to cumulative impacts at the local and regional scale and details examples of collaboration to assess manage, monitor and report cumulative impacts.