ASM and Climate Change
ASM and Climate Change
The relationship between mining and climate change has begun to receive increased attention in research and policy. A less explored relationship is that of climate change and artisanal small-scale mining (ASM).
The climate change movement has matured in recent years, signified, most notably, by the signing of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change in 2016. The role of ASM in African development has also received greater attention with its inclusion in both The Africa Mining Vision (AMV) and AMV Action Plan. The relationship between climate change and ASM will become more pronounced in the coming decades due to its bi-causal nature.
In brief, ASM will contribute to climate change due to the negligent environmental practices prevalent in the sector, whilst climate change will increase the attractiveness of ASM to communities who will experience increased difficulty in maintaining current farming practices. Granted that some ASM will actually be initiated by demand for ASM mined commodities that contribute to mitigating other causes of climate change such as greenhouse gas emissions. We are increasingly concerned with this topic - in 2017, the majority of climate change literature which focused on Africa, explored its impact on agriculture (Senca Research, 2017). In this context researchers and policy makers will have to:
• Have a good grasp on concepts such as climate change adaptation and resilience;
• Consider the relationship between ASM, development and climate change;
• Appreciate the benefits of formalizing and regulating ASM activities;
ASM miners can be found operating across a wide range of mineral types from tin to gold, other precious minerals/stones and development minerals. ASM is typically a livelihood activity especially in rural areas where there are few alternatives. ASM typically involves rudimentary equipment that emits little in the way of greenhouse gases. However, the informal nature of ASM means that those engaging in these activities do not adhere to formal regulations and environmental practices Yet, the impact of their deforestation and land clearing practices will, in the short term damage ecosystems, and in the long-term accelerate climate change as forests and land are natural carbon sinks that help maintain the planet’s carbon budget.
The alternative to ASM, for many in rural Africa is farming. However, the impact of climate change on farming on the continent will increasingly make this alternative far less appealing. As a result, many farmers will turn to mining (Banchirigah and Hilson, 2010).
The IPCC (Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change) has noted, with high confidence, the following on climate change in Africa:
• African ecosystems are already being affected by climate change, and future impacts are expected to be substantial
• Climate change will interact with non-climate drivers and stressors to exacerbate vulnerability of agricultural systems, particularly in semi-arid areas (Niang et al., 2014)
The IPCC also found that the economically, socially and politically marginalised have increased vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. Communities that engage in ASM, typically fit these criteria. As farming continues to be a less dependable source of income due to climate change, we can expect more communities, to turn to ASM. Other publications have pointed to other potential impacts of climate change on ASM, including: migration flows towards ASM potential areas and the resulting conflicts with local communities.
ASM & Adaptation to Climate Change
Adaptation, in the context of climate change, is the set of actions we take in anticipation of, or as a response to, events that are triggered by our changing environment. The goal of adaptation is to reduce the vulnerability of human systems (i.e. communities, areas or sectors) to these changes. We reduce the risks of negative impacts by creating appropriate policies and/or practical steps applicable to those systems that we deem vulnerable. We call this increasing resilience.
In the context of ASM, we should ask questions such as, how to do we protect the livelihoods of those who depend on ASM from the impacts of climate change? What actions would allow us to assist ASM communities in dealing with the increasing migration flows towards ASM potential areas as a result of decreasing agricultural yields? If more people are indeed turning to ASM, how do we better manage the increasing health and safety risks already associated with ASM?
The impacts of climate change on agriculture are already being felt across the African continent, we can expect these impacts to be amplified in the coming decades. As a result, the communities that depend on agriculture for their livelihoods will turn to informal and easily accessible work such as ASM. As the sector grows, it is imperative that governments begin to implement policies to mitigate many of the negative practices currently associated with ASM. Without efforts to formalise and regulate the sector, these practices will grow in scale and impact.