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Water policy and mining: Guidelines and certification schemes

This paper investigates how different dimensions of water – water as a public health concern, as an essential prerequisite for producing livelihoods, and as a cultural heritage or an element of spiritual practice – are taken up in international guidelines and certification schemes for the extractive sector.

As a notoriously water-intensive economic activity, mining frequently infringes on other forms of water use. Simultaneously, the legal articulations and governance implications of the hydrological aspects of mining are complex, as commercial interactions associated with mining span the globe, governance efforts occur primarily at the national level and negative externalities manifest locally. Increasingly, transnational initiatives play a role in setting rules and norms for ‘responsible’ or ‘sustainable’ mining.

We assess to what extent these rules and norms take into account the hydrological implications of mining, looking at eight guideline documents and ten certification schemes for mineral extraction that originate from international organizations, corporate groups, or multi-stakeholder initiatives.

We then illustrate the influence of transnational institutions in two cases, one in Mongolia and one in South Africa. Our results show that water as a public health concern receives the most attention while water as a cultural heritage is reflected the least. However, all institutions in our sample that were devised over the last two years refer to the different dimensions of water use comprehensively.

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