The Panel was established in 2017 with a remit to monitor the social and environmental performance of the Amulsar project, to engage with the project sponsor Lydian International and with the project’s local and national stakeholders, and to hold the project accountable for the delivery of the commitments which it has made to adhere to international best practice principles.
This is the third occasion on which the Panel has been convened in Armenia, to engage with representatives of government, local government leaders, community representatives, NGOs, academics, technical experts and business and union representatives.
Whilst recognising that in some areas the Amulsar project goes beyond what are normal environmental or social practices in the Armenian mining sector, the report makes 19 recommendations on areas where Lydian could strengthen its performance.
The Panel has found that Lydian has made some ambitious commitments to operate to high social and environmental standards and is, in its actions, largely displaying a determination to deliver against them. In particular, the company’s work on biodiversity during the Environmental Impact Assessment process, its engagement with local communities and its commitment to transparency seem to the Panel to demonstrate a strong commitment to sustainability and to a high standard of mining practice.
It notes however, that some stakeholders continue to have concerns about the environmental and social impacts of mining. Concerns about Amulsar have centred on its potential impacts on water, including the potential for acidic discharge (‘acid rock drainage’) and the planned use of cyanide. As construction has ramped up, local debate has focussed increasingly on job expectations and procurement opportunities, together with concerns about dust.
The Panel’s Chair Dr John Harker commented: ‘We are pleased to release our first report, which details our assessment of the Amulsar project’s management of social, environmental and governance issues over the period April 2017 until March 2018. We would like to thank all the project’s stakeholders with whom we have had the chance to engage, and look forward to continuing our oversight of Amulsar as the project advances from construction to production. We have judged it through the lens of what should, by international standards, constitute ‘responsible mining’. We welcome the fact that in many respects the project team seems ambitious and committed to a new model for mining.’
Dr Harker continued: ‘We welcome the project team’s commitment to transparency, including through its public reporting and participation in the Armenian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. Our impression is, however, that because of poor performance in the mining sector, public trust is low. One of the Panel’s central recommendations is, therefore, that the Amulsar project should work with academic institutions and local people to ensure that its performance in areas like water, dust and biodiversity is subject to scrutiny through participatory monitoring programmes. We see this as empowering for citizens and, if the company’s performance measures up to the company’s promises, reassuring to those who have concerns – and if it doesn’t, a means by which they can be held to account.’
Amongst the Panel’s other recommendations are that the company should: strengthen its arrangements for managing the social and environmental performance of its contracting companies in areas like local recruitment and dust management; improve the mechanisms through which affected people can raise and resolve grievances; accelerate the work to establish the Jermuk National Park and ensure that its work on monitoring biodiversity is fit for purpose over the longer term; collaborate with government on the strengthening of health systems; and work with the Jermuk municipality on tourism planning and promotion.
In addition to the Panel’s reporting role, individual panellists have engaged more intensively with the project in areas such as biodiversity, health and community development initiatives. The Panel will be returning in the autumn to hold a roundtable with stakeholders at which it expects the Amulsar project team will formally respond to its recommendations and their progress in implementing a number of them.