Investor Action on Tailings Dam Safety, One Year After the Brumadinho Disaster

Anastasia Bolton
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The Mining and Tailings Safety Initiative, a group that has over US $14 trillion in assets under management and is co-led by the Church of England Pensions Board and the Council of Ethics of the Swedish National Pension Funds announced the following:

  1. Launched the first ever global public database of over 1,900 tailings dams:
  2. Announced a joint shareholder delegation to Minas Gerais to visit communities affected by tailings disasters of Mariana and Brumadinho to be led by the Bishop of Birmingham, Chair of the Local Authority Pension Fund Forum and including the Church of England Pensions Board, the Council on Ethics for the Swedish National Pension Funds and the UN backed Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI)
  3. A set of Investor principles for mining companies and principles for how investors finance the mining sector
  4. Issued a call to companies and governments to jointly set up a global tailings alert/monitoring system similar to those in aviation and shipping. To establish an urgent process of identifying and then removing the most dangerous tailings dams.

These announcements were made at a summit chaired by Bishop David Urquhart (Bishop of Birmingham and Convenor of the Lords Spiritual), held at Church House Westminster on 24th January 2020, on the eve of the 1st anniversary of the Brumadinho disaster in Brazil that killed 270 people. The announcements follow major interventions by investors since the disaster, that included the demand for a new independent global standard of tailings management and disclosure from 700 mining companies regarding tailings dams.

The rapid growth of the Investor Mining and Tailings Safety Initiative participation over the last 12 months demonstrates the level of seriousness with which investors have approached tailings dam safety. The Initiative is now supported by over 110 institutions with more than US $14 trillion assets under management.

Following a Remembrance Service the opening plenary of the Summit was addressed by Ms Angelica Amanda Andrade whose sister was killed in the Brumadinho disaster.

Global Tailings Portal Launched

The database for the initiative is being jointly supported by the Church of England Pensions Board, the Council of Ethics of the Swedish National Pension Funds and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) with the initiative’s academic partner GRID Arendal (a non-profit academic foundation established by the Norwegian Government to support the United Nations in the field of environmental information management and assessment) ( and the technology partner to the initiative, Satellite Applications Catapult (an independent, not for profit innovation and technology organization, partially funded by the UK government). (

The Summit saw the launch of the first publicly accessible global database on tailings storage facilities, which was presented by Professor Elaine Baker of the University of Sydney and GRID-Arendal.

The portal presents the disclosures that mining companies have made in response to the request made by the Global Mining and Tailings Safety Initiative. []

Professor Baker presented data on the following:

  • 1,939 Tailings Facilities are included in the database, disclosed by 98 mining companies.
  • These 98 companies represent approximately 54% of the global mining industry by market capitalisation.
  • The total current volume of tailings stored in disclosed facilities is 45.7 billion cubic metres, which is the equivalent to the volume of 11,447 Wembley Stadiums.
  • In 5 years time, the total expected volume disclosed by mining companies is over 56.6 billion cubic metres of tailings.
  • This represents a 25% increase, which is equivalent to the volume of 2,728 Wembley Stadiums.

Dr Estel Blay from the Satellite Applications Catapult presented on the following:

  • The updates on the UK government funded project (Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy) for satellite enabled analyses.
  • The initial demonstration of stability analyses of 3 sample tailings dams in Brazil and Chile. This demonstration and technology pilot is to be expanded up to 50 by the end of the project.
  • Announced the companies who were awarded to carry out work on seepage identification and AI for detection of the tailings dams as part of the project.
  • Highlighted the need for continued investor participation in the development of the platform.