IRMA Standard for Responsible Mining (Draft 2.0)
Chapter 3.7 Protected Areas

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Remote locations targeted for mineral exploration often have relatively low existing human populations, but may be areas of high biodiversity value, or of other natural or cultural significance, and often overlap with existing or proposed protected area designations. Competing values in these areas may lead to tension as to how best to manage the land and resources. A comprehensive system of properly designated, respected, secure and effectively managed protected areas can contribute to the resolution of these tensions.

IRMA recognizes UNESCO World Heritage sites, and supports the spectrum protected areas levels identified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which offers levels of protection that range from areas that are off limits to industrial activities to those in which certain activities may be permitted where they are consistent with the conservation and/or cultural objectives in the designated area.[1]

Mining companies should work to support effective protected area management in collaboration with other actors.

Objectives/Intent of this Chapter

To avoid contributing to the global loss of biodiversity.

Scope of Application

Chapter Relevance:  This chapter is relevant for all mines applying to IRMA certification.  Companies must demonstrate that they undertook a process to identify protected areas that might be affected by its mining-related activities. If no protected areas were identified, then the remainder of the chapter is non-applicable.

New vs. Existing Mines:  Highly Protected Areas are ‘no go zones’.  In all but a few exceptional cases (e.g., see requirement, neither new mines nor existing mines will be eligible for IRMA certification if mining-related activities are taking place in Highly Protected Areas.


  • Removed the corporate-level requirements.
  • Added a requirement ( that recognizes that there may be situations where a mine existed in a place that was later designated as a highly protected area. In these situations, IRMA is proposing that the mines be eligible for certification, as long as the operating company can demonstrate that it implementing measures to ensure that the mining project is not placing at risk the special values of those areas.
  • Added a third category of “protected area.” There are now Highly Protected Areas that are no-go zones for mining (; protected areas where mining is allowed if company can demonstrate mining is compatible with maintenance of area’s special values (; and a new category, where mining is allowed if company can demonstrate a net positive impact on biodiversity ( (See table in Notes section at end of chapter, which outlines the three categories).
  • The means of verification (MOV) have been removed from this version of the draft IRMA Standard. If you would prefer to review and comment on a version of the draft Standard that has the means of verification, you can download a pdf version of the Standard with MOV.

Protected Areas Requirements

3.7.1.  Identification of Potentially Affected Protected Areas  The operating company shall identify and document the locations and boundaries of all protected areas that may be affected by mining-related activities.

3.7.2.  Activities in Highly Protected Areas  Mining-related activities shall not take place in the following Highly Protected Areas (HPA):[2]  Issue in brief:  There may be situations where a highly protected area (HPA) is created around an existing mine site, i.e., the mine was in place prior to designation of the HPA.  In this situation, IRMA may still certify these mine sites, as long as the company can demonstrate that is implementing measures to ensure that the mining project is not placing at risk the special values of those areas. IRMA is seeking input on this approach and welcomes feedback from interested stakeholders.  As an exception to, mining shall be allowed in Highly Protected Areas if the mine was in operation prior to the area’s designation as an HPA.

a. In these cases, the operating company shall design and undertake measures to ensure that such mining projects do not put the integrity of the special values for which those areas are designated Highly Protected Areas at risk.

b. The operating company shall report publicly on the measures that are being taken to ensure that the mining operation is protecting the special values of the Highly Protected Areas.

3.7.3.  Assessment of Potentially Affected Protected Areas  The operating company shall carry out an assessment of each identified protected area,[3]  including consultation with interested stakeholders.  The assessment shall include:

a. Identifying and listing the special values which the area is intended to protect;

b. Assessing the current status of the area in relation to the protection of those values;

c. Assessing the potential effects of mining-related activities on those special values, including positive and negative direct, indirect and cumulative effects;

d. Identifying and evaluating alternatives to the proposed mining activities, to determine least damaging options; and

e. Identifying and evaluating opportunities for partnerships that will enhance long-term sustainable management of the protected area.  The findings of the assessment process, including data on which the findings are based, shall be publicly available.

3.7.4.  Activities In Or Adjacent To Protected Areas  Mining-related activities shall only be undertaken in the following categories of protected areas if the assessment clearly demonstrates that the proposed activities are compatible with the maintenance of the special values for which the area is designated for protection:

  • IUCN category V-VI protected areas;
  • Natura 2000 sites
  • Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas (ICCAs) in which free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) has been demonstrated, in compliance with the requirements of IRMA Chapter 2.10;
  • Important Bird Areas (IBAs);
  • Official buffer zones of sites designated as Highly Protected Areas, and other areas outside the boundaries of Highly Protected Areas in which mining activities may affect the values for which the Highly Protected Area was designated for protection; and
  • Other officially designated protected areas.  Mining-related activities shall only be undertaken in the following categories of protected areas if the assessment was carried out or peer-reviewed by a reputable conservation organization and/or academic institution;[4]  it clearly demonstrates that the proposed activities are compatible with the maintenance of the special values for which the area is designated for protection; and, in cases where the area is designated to protect biodiversity, that there will be a net positive impact on biodiversity during and after mine operations:

  • IUCN category IV protected areas;
  • Ramsar sites that are not IUCN category I- III protected areas; and
  • UNESCO Biosphere Reserves beyond the core areas.

3.7.5.  Monitoring of Impacts on Protected Areas.  The operating company shall ensure that a monitoring program is in place that is capable of identifying any significant adverse impacts that the operating company’s mining-related activities may have on the special values for which the protected areas in and were designated for protection.  The results of such monitoring shall be publicly available.

3.7.6.  Management Response  In the event that monitoring has identified any significant adverse impacts as described in 3.7.5, above, the operating company shall ensure that there has been a timely and effective management response.


This chapter defines restrictions on mining- related activities in or adjacent to different categories of formally protected areas.  The chapter distinguishes between three kinds of protected area: Highly Protected Areas, and two categories of other protected areas. IRMA will not certify mines in Highly Protected Areas.  Other protected areas are treated as special cases, where conservation values are prioritized, but where mining-related activities may take place so long as such activities can be shown to be compatible with the maintenance of the values that the areas are designed to protect, or that the company can demonstrate a net positive impact on biodiversity. A separate chapter of the IRMA Standard (Chapter 3.8) addresses the management of biodiversity more generally, including its management outside of formally protected areas.

This chapter includes three responses to different categories of protected areas, as follows:

Cross Reference to Other Chapters



1.1—Legal Compliance As per Chapter 1.1, if there are host country laws governing protected areas, the company is required to abide by those laws. If IRMA requirements are more stringent than host country law, the company is required to also meet the IRMA requirements, as long as complying with them would not require the operating company to break the host country law.
2.8—Community and Stakeholder Engagement Engagement with stakeholders in the protected areas assessment shall conform to the requirements in Chapter 2.8. In particular, criterion 2.8.3 is important to ensure that stakeholders have the capacity to participate in the assessment or protected areas. Also, 2.8.4. ensures that communications and information are in formats and languages that are accessible and understandable to affected communities and stakeholders, and provided in a timely, culturally appropriate manner.
2.10—Free, Prior and Informed Consent As per, mining-related activities shall only be undertaken in Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas if the operating company first obtains the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples s per Chapter 2.10.
2.11—Cultural Heritage Protection of cultural heritage in legally protected areas is addressed in 2.11.6.
2.13—Grievance Mechanism and Access to Other Remedies Stakeholders who have complaints related to the operating company’s assessment, mitigation, monitoring or other issues related to protected areas will have access to raise these issues. As per Chapter 2.13, the operating company is required to have an operational-level grievance mechanism available to stakeholders, including procedures for filing complaints, and having complaints recorded, investigated and resolved in a timely manner.
3.2—Water Quantity Protected areas are addressed in relation to water quantity in and  In particular, mine water use is prohibited from impacting water bodies in protected areas.
3.8—Biodiversity Outside of Officially Protected Areas The effects of the operating company’s activities on any protected areas in categories not listed in this chapter will be addressed through the operating company’s policies and procedures for protecting biological diversity outside officially protected areas as per IRMA Chapter 3.8.
4.1—Environmental and Social Impact Assessment Chapter 2.13 has a provision ( that stakeholders be involved in designing a grievance mechanism. So if it is important to stakeholders, the mechanism could allow for the anonymous filing of complaints, for example, in relation to financial matters, bribery, corruption, etc.



1. See IUCN categories of protected areas.

2. View the official list of World Heritage Sites.  Also, the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA) is an increasingly comprehensive listing of protected areas classified in accordance with the IUCN classifications. IRMA Guidance will provide links to other resources on Highly Protected Areas.

3. Since mining is not permitted in HPAs, no assessment is needed of those areas unless the mine already existed prior to designation of the area as an HPA. In that case, an assessment would be required.

4. E.g., An academic institution or environmental NGO with experience in biodiversity assessments. Also, the personnel responsible for carrying out the peer-review or assessment would be expected to be “competent professionals” (i.e., in-house staff or external consultants with relevant education, knowledge, proven experience and necessary skill-sets and training to carry out the required work. Competent professionals would be expected to follow established and scientifically robust methodologies to carry out their work).