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Time to clean up gold mining

Published by
Global Mining Review,


Boris Ivanov, Founder of Emiral Resources Ltd, explores the importance of reshaping responsible mining in the gold industry.

Gold has never looked so precious. With prices surging of up to 40% in a span of 5 months this year and the impact of the global pandemic, this uptick has seen investors flee high-risk assets and look to gold as an attractive long term investment asset.

The price spike has caused a gold rush and spurred more illegal mining activities around the world. This has led to increasing conflict between communities (including indigenous) and miners and to environmental degradation – from the destruction of trees and local habitats to contamination of water and local food supply chains because of the mercury used to separate gold from grit leaking into rivers. This issue is acute in the Amazon, Brazil, which has been hampered by additional political pressures that has boosted illegal gold mining in the region.

The Amazon comprises of 60% of Brazil’s territory and 13% of its population, but generates just 8% of the GDP. It is considered the world’s richest biodiversity hotspot – home to at least 10% of the world’s known biodiversity, including endemic and endangered flora and fauna. It is now under threat from human activity in the form of logging, mining, and resource extraction.

The lust for gold has attracted wildcat prospectors in recent decades, who have destroyed forests, poisoned rivers, threatened biodiversity conservation, and brought fatal diseases to indigenous tribes. In fact, gold has already contributed to an estimated 10% of the Amazon’s deforestation overall and in parts of an area known as the Guiana Shield, which stretches through six countries in the northern Amazonian regions, gold mining has caused 90% of deforestation.

This not only has implications for Brazil but for the world, as the pressure mounts to fight climate change and steer a path towards a clean energy transition. The biodiversity in the Amazon plays a critical role in global systems as the rainforest acts as a key climate regulator producing 20% of the world's oxygen and acts as a carbon sink. Even its river accounts for 15 – 16% of the world’s total river discharge into the oceans.

Earlier this year, NASA satellite images confirmed the extent of gold mining activities in Madre de Dios, capturing graphic photographs of the rivers of illegal gold operations underway. Just last month in May, illegal gold miners inside the Yanomami reservation in northern Brazil opened fire with automatic weapons on an indigenous community that has opposed their entry by river. Yanomami and local officials say that numbers have increased. ‘Garimpeiros’ as they are known locally, have been emboldened by the election of President Jair Bolsonaro who has said he wants to legalise wildcat (small-scale) mining and vowed to develop the Amazon economically and tap its mineral riches. The Amazon Basin is fast approaching an irreversible tipping point.

There is a need to enforce against bad practices to ensure the sustainable development of the Amazon and it will require the government to enact meaningful policies to address key problems from illegal mining to the use of mercury in gold extraction.

Phasing out the use of mercury in gold production is essential. By negotiating with refineries and manufacturers and by providing incentives for small-scale miners, the industry can invest in mercury-free technologies. The exploitation of local labour through illegal mining is also an ongoing issue that requires government attention. Indigenous people are facing both land invasions, environmental destruction and criminal threats from miners entering their land for gold.

Empowering these communities is vital to reduce existential threats to local people in the Amazon region. However, unless the government takes decisive action and implements regulations supporting tenure rights, they remain at risk.

While all mining can potentially raise risks to biodiversity, traditional livelihoods, human rights, Indigenous peoples, environment and socio-economic circumstances, illegal mining potentially poses a greater risk because it is less subject to regulations, controls, inspections, and legal frameworks.

Removing the threat of illegal gold mining is unlikely to happen without sustained pressure on investors and consumers for strengthening and expanding international mechanisms to increase traceability of mineral supply chains like certification schemes and exerting pressure on governments to curb illegal activities. Regulation is therefore key in reshaping responsible mining practices but not enough on its own – especially when the sitting government faces financial difficulties or is at odds with a protective course of action for various internal reasons.

Read the article online at: https://www.globalminingreview.com/special-reports/15062021/time-to-clean-up-gold-mining/

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