How the partnership works
The partnership achieves biodiversity conservation through several activities:
- Promotion of an interest in birds as a gateway to wider awareness of the environment, through annual birdwatching events at Rio Tinto operations.
- Identification and development of conservation projects relevant to mining operations and to BirdLife Partners.
- Assisting in the implementation of Rio Tinto’s biodiversity strategy among Rio Tinto business units.
- Advancing the debate on corporate responsibility by demonstrating the partnership’s achievements through global outreach work.
Annual Rio Tinto Birdwatch Event
The Birdwatch Event is an opportunity for Rio Tinto employees, families and members of local communities to enjoy and appreciate the birds and habitats associated with the company’s operating sites. With the expertise of the local BirdLife Partner, these social outdoor meetings provide an initial vehicle for promoting the BirdLife–Rio Tinto partnership, aid relationship-building and can act as a communication springboard for the identification and development of collaborative biodiversity projects.
This annual activity has grown from 21 events with 330 participants in 2000, to 44 events with over 4,000 participants in 2007. Birdwatch events have been held in North and South America, southern Africa, Europe, Australia, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, and India. The participants have visited protected areas, Important Bird Areas (IBAs) and other key biodiversity sites. They have also made contributions to internationally important biodiversity monitoring schemes and some have created self-sustaining environmental education activities in their communities. In addition to holding their own birdwatching events, several businesses have begun to engage in wider birding initiatives such as International Migratory Bird Days, Christmas bird counts and local Raptor Festivals in North America and visits to birds-of-prey centres in Australia, South Africa and Quebec. This initiative clearly demonstrates sustainability, and each year’s event sees new approaches and experiences, which facilitate new outcomes for the partnership.
Collaborative project identification and development
Through the programme, collaborative biodiversity projects have been developed between Rio Tinto business units and BirdLife Partners and Country Programmes in a number of countries around the world. The resulting projects are varied, and reflect the priorities and capacity of both organisations. Most collaborations have begun by addressing conservation issues related to birds or their habitats associated with mining operations and lease areas. In several cases, they have expanded into nearby protected areas or Important Bird Areas (IBAs), employing a multi-stakeholder engagement process where the local community, the BirdLife Partner and the Rio Tinto business join in the stewardship of a priority site or species. In a few cases, the scope of the collaboration encompasses nationwide initiatives. The tailoring of each collaborative conservation project to meet the needs and capacities of both partners is the key to successful outcomes.
The most successful projects are those that develop strategic initiatives, brokering interest among stakeholders from all sectors of civil society, including business, NGOs, communities and schools. Examples of these include environmental education programmes, ecotourism initiatives, and engagement in land-use planning where the needs of the mine meet the needs of wildlife in the wider catchment area. Such projects have been successful in meeting goals for biodiversity conservation, as well as addressing wider objectives for sustainable development.
BirdLife and the implementation of Rio Tinto’s Biodiversity Strategy
Rio Tinto launched its biodiversity strategy in 2004 at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Bangkok. The strategy sets out the company’s long-term goal of having "a Net Positive Impact on biodiversity by minimising the negative impacts of its activities and by making appropriate contributions to conservation". For Rio Tinto, this means ensuring that its actions have positive effects on biodiversity, which means the need to both balance and outweigh the inevitable negative effects that mining can have. In order to attain this aim at its operations, it will be necessary for Rio Tinto to demonstrate that its actions have positive effects on biodiversity conservation, which not only balance but are accepted to outweigh the unavoidable negative impacts of the physical disturbance and land use changes associated with mining.
In terms of a public commitment by a mining company towards biodiversity conservation, BirdLife International recognises that Rio Tinto's biodiversity strategy is a landmark document. BirdLife, together with other conservation organisations, has assisted Rio Tinto to develop its biodiversity strategy, and is continuing to aid its implementation across the Rio Tinto Group.
Rio Tinto is working to mitigate the negative impacts of its activities on biodiversity, by avoiding impacts where possible, minimising impacts that cannot be avoided and rehabilitating habitats after activities have ended. BirdLife is assisting Rio Tinto to improve the way it mitigates impacts on biodiversity through more effective design and planning, informed by reliable information on the biodiversity values of affected areas. In addition, BirdLife is helping Rio Tinto document and report on the net impact its operations are having on biodiversity, through the development of biodiversity performance measures for the group.
Despite on-going improvements in mitigation measures across the Rio Tinto Group, for most mining operations, a residual negative impact on biodiversity is unavoidable. In order to compensate for these residual negative impacts, and achieve a Net Positive Impact on biodiversity, Rio Tinto is developing a methodology for offsetting biodiversity impacts within the context of what is known as the ‘mitigation hierarchy’. BirdLife, together with other conservation organisations, is assisting with the development of this methodology, both on a conceptual level and on a practical level, through pilots at selected Rio Tinto operations. This experience is informing a number of other initiatives to develop biodiversity offset methodologies suitable for business, such as the Business and Biodiversity Offsets Program (BBOP), for which both BirdLife and Rio Tinto sit on the international advisory committee.
Alongside biodiversity offsets, ‘additional conservation actions’ are also considered key and valid components in contributing to the achievement of Net Positive Impact at a local level. Additional conservation actions, which include environmental education, research and capacity building, differ from biodiversity offsets in that their direct impacts on biodiversity cannot be quantified. Many of the collaborative projects outlined above could be regarded as significant contributions to this commitment. In time, such activities may be usefully considered in contributing to the attainment of Net Positive Impact.
Such measures provide a way of demonstrating to external audiences that Rio Tinto is delivering on environmental sustainability, one part of the "triple bottom line" of sustainable development.
The programme seeks to demonstrate the potential benefits of cross-sector partnerships and to advocate best practice for biodiversity and the environment across the global mining sector. The programme's activities seek to show that a pro-active, inclusive and integrated approach will secure lasting and effective benefits for birds, biodiversity, business and relevant stakeholders. There has been a considerable amount of interest in hearing more about how the BirdLife International - Rio Tinto partnership has developed, its progress to date and the plans for future cooperation. The partnership members are responding to this interest by sharing lessons learned with other resource companies, government agencies and NGOs, including BirdLife Partners, who wish to benefit from the experiences of the partnership. This is being achieved through workshops, study visits and articles in the trade and general media.