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UNFC – the tool of choice for optimizing natural resource management

Published:12 July 2013

Photo courtesy of Monica Belling, ProActivo/Mining Press

After four years of review and refinement, the United Nations Framework Classification for Fossil Energy and Mineral Reserves and Resources (UNFC) is being pilot tested in countries all over the world. Those responsible for the testing gathered this week at a workshop in Santiago de Chile to report on their results to date and to plan a full roll-out focused on sustainable development objectives in emerging economies. These economies are seen as key because of the high and increasing contribution made to their GDP by mineral resources – anywhere from 10-20%. Many have little or no experience in reporting and managing mineral resources and hence are vulnerable in negotiations of mining development agreements.

Where better to meet than Chile, the only country in the world to anchor mining in its national constitution, to review the merits of a unified classification and reporting tool for managing all energy, mineral and renewable resources in a consistent way?  UNFC is a classification system based on principles of simplicity, flexibility and transparency that is a new tool for a new age in natural resource management.

Mr. David MacDonald, Chair of the UNECE Expert Group on Resource Classification responsible for the UNFC and Vice President, Segment Reserves, BP Exploration, noted: “This workshop has been an exciting opportunity for experts in resource identification and classification from around the world to share experiences in using the UNFC and other systems for the estimation of energy resources, with a focus on uranium, thorium and phosphates. Sustainable development depends on having a social licence for any mining and processing project. Winning that social licence demands a contemporary resource classification system that allows the efficient management and effective, transparent comparison of all energy commodities – from petroleum to nuclear fuels to renewable sources.”

Chile has long been seen as a world leader in mining technology. In the past decade, thanks to well-judged national policy interventions and a proactive industry focused on best practices, Chile has established itself as a “Triple Bottom Line” mining leader. It has done this in two ways: first, by requiring that sustainable mining projects deliver social, economic and environmental benefits to both shareholders and stakeholders; secondly, by insisting on safety as the core value of a strong mining culture. Together, these measures have demonstrated in practice that mining, long seen as a 'predatory industry', can be transformed into an engine for safe, sustainable growth, with benefits to society as a whole.

It was against this background that the UNFC pilot community gathered in the headquarters of the Association of Chilean Engineers, who together with the Ministry of Mines of Chile and the Chilean Nuclear Energy Commission were the workshop hosts.

Mr. Harikrishnan Tulsidas, IAEA and the Workshop’s Scientific Secretary, commented: “Some 12,000 tonnes of uranium are wasted every year because it is not being recovered from phosphoric acid production. This is enough to meet 20% of the world’s annual uranium needs in an environmentally highly beneficial manner. We are looking for win/win solutions that show both commercial and environmental benefits from stopping this waste. Chile is an ideal place for us to look for such solutions. The country is a pioneer in the mining and processing of low-grade ores, in the extraction of several minerals from a single mine, and in optimizing use of scarce, costly inputs such as energy and water.”

“Modern, socially and environmentally responsible uranium production technologies can learn from the Chilean experience in sustainable and socially inclusive mining practices across a wide range of minerals such as copper, lithium and potash.”

The occasion was the Interregional Workshop on “UNFC Applications in Uranium and Thorium Resources: Focus on Comprehensive Extraction” held in Santiago, Chile, 9-12 July.

The workshop was organized jointly by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the Ibero-American Programme for Science, Technology and Development (CYTED). And as a measure of UNFC’s global appeal, the event was attended by more than 60 experts from 40 countries representing Africa, Eurasia, North America, and South America.

For more information on the UNFC or the Expert Group on Resource Classification, visit: http://unece.org/energy/se/reserves.html and/or contact Ms. Charlotte Griffiths at:  reserves.energy@unece.org.

Note to editors

Operating under ECOSOC Decision 2004/233, UNECE’s global work on the UNFC is carried out by the Expert Group on Resource Classification, whose key focus is the further development and global promotion and implementation of the UNFC. 

The UNFC, which is generic, intuitive and user-friendly, is the only modern classification system in the world to address the minerals, petroleum and uranium sectors using a single set of definitions and terminology. Its application is now being broadened to encompass renewable energy resources. The UNFC is an umbrella classification system which is fully aligned with the key commodity-specific systems in place worldwide for minerals – the Committee for Mineral Reserves International Reporting Standards (CRIRSCO) International Reporting Template – and for petroleum, the Petroleum Resource Management System (PRMS). Approved by the Board of the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) in March 2007, the PRMS was developed by an international group of reserves evaluation experts led by SPE and co-sponsored by the World Petroleum Council (WPC), the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) and the Society of Petroleum Evaluation Engineers (SPEE), and was subsequently endorsed by the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG).

The UNFC is designed to meet the needs of four principal stakeholders: (i) analysts of international energy and mineral resources; (ii) Governments – to manage their resources accordingly; (iii) industry – to provide data and information necessary to deploy technology, management and finance in order to serve the host countries, shareholders and stakeholders; and (iv) the financial community – to provide the information necessary to allocate capital appropriately so reducing costs. A strong code, offering simplicity without sacrificing completeness or flexibility, the UNFC paves the way for improved global communications which will aid stability and security of supplies, governed by fewer and more widely understood rules and guidelines. The efficiencies to be gained through its use are substantial.


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© United Nations Economic Commissions for Europe – 2013