Raising the game on biodiversity
Ambatovy is a nickel-cobalt mining and processing project located on the island of Madagascar. Construction on the site began in 2007 and is expected to be completed in 2011. The EIB is supporting the project with a EUR 260m loan. Interview with Andrew Cooke, manager of the environmental department at Ambatovy.
Environmental issues are increasingly the focus of discussions about the industry. How do you at Ambatovy try to ensure environmental sustainability?
In Madagascar, the key dimension of the environment is biodiversity. Ambatovy’s mine is situated within an area known for its sensitive biodiversity. Right from the beginning, we undertook the commitment to ensure the project would have no net negative effect on biodiversity and would even strive to achieve gains if possible. In addition to various stringent mitigation practices to minimise our impact on biodiversity, such as saving animals and plants and relocating them to safe havens to ensure that there is no loss of any endangered population or rare species, we also decided to develop additional areas or “offsets” around the mine site where we would ensure long-term conservation of habitats. To further compensate, we invested in an offset away from the mine site - a large forest area with similar characteristics to the one that we are impacting. Overall, the total area that we will conserve of about 15 000 ha is about ten times the size of the mine footprint. Given that Madagascar is subject to high rates of deforestation, we expect a net gain in biodiversity over projections within about ten years.
How has the EIB supported your environmental efforts?
The EIB encourages the application of sustainability principles, such as those of the International Finance Corporation (part of the World Bank Group), in particular on biodiversity. The EIB has certainly been supportive of our measures and we are currently working together to establish a satellite imagery surveillance system for the mine forests and the offset. We are committed to best environmental practices and a key element of that is monitoring, and a key element of monitoring is using modern technologies to do so.
How do you try to contribute to Madagascar’s environmental record?
I think it’s fair to say that we’ve raised the game in terms of the contribution that can be made by investors to biodiversity conservation in Madagascar. We are not the first company to do this, but we are the first to introduce offsets as an additional contribution. The Malagasy authorities have supported our initiatives and I believe it has made them more confident to insist on similar contributions from other mining investments. We hope that our actions will eventually encourage the government to legislate the offsets. In addition, our species monitoring and mitigation programmes – such as our lemur programme – are at the cutting edge. We believe they will contribute significantly to scientific knowledge on Madagascar’s biodiversity and conservation management. We have already begun presenting our work at international research conferences.
Ambatovy has made a lot of upfront environmental investments. How did you convince your management without having made any money with the mine?
First, the project and its partners have always been completely committed to high environmental standards. It is clearly stated in Ambatovy’s vision and values statements. We have support for rather than opposition to these initiatives. We are also bound by our lending covenants that adhere to the Equator Principles and IFC Standards, which have clear requirements on environmental management and sustainability. I would also say that this is a sign of the times. Publicly traded mining companies looking to make billion-dollar investments in building a world-class operation are becoming more progressive with regards to investing in environmental management, as a form of risk management, good governance and corporate reputation building. Doing so makes good business sense.