Saving the Planet

Sustainable mining and what it means for Africa

sustainable mining - climateaction
image credit: mozambiqueminingpost

For many African communities, mining is a very profitable business, presents tremendous potentials for creating economic value, and has brought about economic development to some of these communities.

However, its adverse effects on the environment, if not contained soon enough, will lead to dire consequences especially as the climate crisis continues to worsen.

Mining operations in Africa have been carried out without regard for the environment and other infrastructural limitations. This has put avoidable pressure on the environment and caused inconveniences to the people living in the mining areas.

This is further worsened by illegal mining which, in addition to environmental and infrastructural damages, results in public revenue loss.

This is where sustainable mining comes into play.

According to Law Insider dictionary, sustainable mining entails carrying out mining operations in ways that do not damage the ecology and environment and conform to the conditions that are stipulated in clearances and permissions accorded for mining by various authorities in a state.

To control the negative impact of mining, mining firms need to apply the concept and principles of sustainable development to mining operations. This is known as sustainable mining and it is crucial for the promotion of inclusive growth.

These sustainability principles comprise scientific mining, precautionary principle, management of environmental and socio-economic impacts, intra and inter-generational equity, creation of substitute capital in the form of social and physical infrastructure, and stakeholder engagement.

The good thing about these sustainability principles is that they have applications for all stages of the life cycle of mining – mine planning, exploration, construction, mineral extraction, mine closure, and post-closure restoration.

However, the interests of the mining firms continue to slow the journey to sustainability in the sector.

These mining firms want to realize as much revenue at the lowest possible operational cost, seeking to maximize their net economic gains from mining operations at the economic and environmental expense of these communities in terms of reduced future productivity. These communities are always left hanging.

To put this into context, when a mining firm pollutes the atmosphere, soil, water, and disrupts the fragile geological balance in the area within which they carry out their mining, the community bears the environmental cost.

How can Africa achieve sustainable mining?

Most African countries have been plagued with bad governance for as long as one can remember and this has been a major hindrance to development in those regions.

To achieve sustainable mining, Africa needs to get it right in terms of governance which would, in turn, see to the establishment of mining enterprises that are sustainable environmentally, economically, financially, and technically.

African governments and the mining industry need to take a far-reaching view of sustainable development that the environment into the socio-economic development of the communities, stakeholder engagement and consultations, and transparency in communication and accountability.

On the part of the government, no mining firm should be allowed to operate if they do not meet environmental standards. Also, part of the permitting process for the grant and administration of mineral franchise to a mining firm for a project must include a socio-economic assessment report.

On the part of the mining firms, they must adopt modern and broad environment protection measures, sensitize their personnel on sustainability issues and progressively try to improve their environmental performance while conforming to the prescribed legal provisions.

Governments must follow up on the mine closure plans of these mining firms and also ensure that local communities are consulted in the preparation and implementation of the mine closure plans.

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