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Responding to the challenges in sustainable development of energy and raw material resources

Interruptions in energy and material flows can be devastating for any economy. That is why reliable, affordable and safe provisioning of energy and raw material supply is of paramount importance. The recent end of the “commodity super cycle” and market turmoil for energy and mineral resources has put greater pressure on countries and companies to perform better in managing their resources. Often associated with negative connotations such as “extractive”, “exploitive” and “drain” activities, the question is often asked as to whether the development and production of these resources can be carried out in a sustainable manner.

Over 200 experts from more than 50 countries, who gathered to attend the UNECE Resource Classification Week 2017 (Geneva, 24-28 April), discussed this issue with more attention than ever before as to how energy and mineral production facilities can provide not only net economic gains but also social and environmental returns. Energy and materials are required for maintaining a minimum standard of living for the growing urban population, but they are also essential for food production, fighting poverty and keeping the environment healthy.

The eighth session of the Expert Group on Resource Classification (EGRC), which develops the United Nations Framework Classification for Fossil Energy and Mineral Reserves and Resources met during the week to firm up strategies that could enable countries and companies to confront new challenges in a range of sectors. The renaming of the system as the United Nations Framework Classification for Resources (UNFC), was agreed in the meeting as one of the first necessary steps to transform UNFC to be a modern tool for consistent and coherent classification and sustainable management of all raw material and energy resources.

“The realization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the commitments of the Paris Agreement are the foremost drivers for our work on UNFC. However, issues such as combatting desertification and passing through the intricacies of the food-water-energy nexus assumed importance in the discussions of the Expert Group on Resource Classification at its eighth session”, said Mr. David MacDonald, Vice-President, Segment Reserves, BP and EGRC Chair.

UNFC is operational for all minerals, oil and gas, uranium and thorium, geothermal energy and injection projects for geological storage of CO2. The meeting approved the newly developed specifications for bioenergy to be issued for public consultation. Significant progress was also made to broaden UNFC’s application to other renewable energy systems such as solar, hydro and wind power. UNFC is now gearing up to support the aspiration of zero waste, with the development of specifications for anthropogenic resources, which includes secondary resources and energy recovery and utilization of mining wastes and tailings. The meeting also discussed the development of guidelines for social and environmental considerations and approved new guidance for recognition of competent persons, particularly in the context of financial reporting.

A key benefit of UNFC is its flexibility and ability to be adapted for diverse national and regional requirements. The Nordic countries (Norway, Sweden and Finland) have developed common sub-regional guidelines for applying UNFC to the minerals sector, with a view to making ‘green mining’ a reality and to provide a pathway for demonstrating carbon emissions reductions. The Ministry of Land and Resources of the People’s Republic of China has developed draft bridging documents to align its national mineral and petroleum systems to UNFC. The African Mineral Development Centre (AMDC), supported by the African Union and hosted by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), presented at this meeting its decision to adopt UNFC as the sustainable management tool for the whole of Africa as part of the realization of the Africa Mining Vision.

“Africa needs to be firmly placed in the game of efficient and sustainable management of its natural resources”, observed Mr. Alexander Nwegbu, Director General of the Nigerian Geological Survey Agency (NGSA) and the President of Organization of African Geological Surveys (OAGS). “We see the adoption of UNFC as an important step in making mining a responsible activity in Africa”.

Many associated meetings were also held during the week to support the further development of UNFC, including the UNFC and Nuclear Fuel Resources Working Group led by the including the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UNFC and Anthropogenic Resources Working Group led by the European Union funded Mining the European Anthroposphere (MINEA) project, and the Technical Advisory Group.

The expansion of UNFC to include all energy and material resources, the availability of guidelines to address social and environmental issues and support for competency in resource reporting has made the system the most comprehensive one available today globally. This is now attested by its increasing adoption and application as the tool of choice for the sustainable management of resources in UNECE member States and other countries worldwide.

For further information, visit http://www.unece.org/energy.html or contact Hari Tulsidas at: reserves.energy@unece.org