Tom Bide – Mineral resource data, the United Nations Classification Framework (UNFC) and sustainable reporting

The definition of resources and reserves is a cornerstone of the extractive industry. Although once the domain of mine managers and investors, concerns regarding the security and sustainability of supply plus moves towards a circular economy, mean that resources and reserves data are becoming increasingly used by policy makers, NGOs, academics, and the general public.  Unfortunately there is often much confusion over what these terms mean and what reported figures physically represent. This is often hindered by numerous different international definitions. In Europe alone there are nearly 20 different national definitions of mineral resources (Figure 1). This confusion can lead to misconceptions regarding depletion of minerals, poor policy decisions at a national level and a lack of understanding about supply chains.  

One solution for better understating of resource data for these purposes is the use of the United Nations Framework Classification (UNFC), a classification scheme designed to accommodate (and manage) a wide variety of natural resources.  UNFC differs from the investor focused, internationally recognised definitions (such as those of the CRIRSCO template), as it is designed specifically for national scale resource management and has the flexibility to include a wide variety of different types of mineral resource data.  This means a holistic picture of the true availability of mineral stocks can be realised.  This in turn can lead to a better understanding of where and how mineral resources may be planned for and extracted in the long term.

With a better understanding of the availability of mineral resources, myths such as ‘peak mineral’ can be dispelled, and the geological community can ensure that policy makers are able to form an evidence led raw material sourcing strategy.  This will also allow tools that are used to improve the environmental footprint of excitation, such as materials flow analysis and life cycle analysis to be improved and refined.