Preparing West Africa for the Green Economy


Carl Williams,

Principal Environmental Engineer,

SRK Consulting

The green economy spotlight on mining is brightening in West Africa. Large-scale miners have a key role to play in developing the green economy in West Africa by aligning with selected responsible-sourcing standards and preparing for asset-level performance validations to provide business stakeholders with more confidence in the environmental, social and governance (ESG) credentials of mines and mineral products.

Within West Africa gold producers are aligning with the Responsible Gold Mining Principles or the ICMM Principles and Performance Expectations, while Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) reporting in West Africa is relatively advanced, including disclosures of initiatives to build human and social capital, together with information on taxes paid to government. Most West African countries are members of EITI and are making meaningful progress towards meeting this Standard.

Minerals law in West Africa is strongly influenced by international and regional initiatives and is already thick with sustainability provisions and new revisions set to prepare for the green economy. Notable among these initiatives are those of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)1 which intend to strengthen mining sector governance to further support local communities benefits with increased focus on human rights, health and safety, environmental management, climate risk and positive social impacts.

Preferential employment of local nationals and businesses registered in the country is a requirement of West African Minerals law and, as such, licensed miners are under pressure to build human and social capital. To fulfil these local employment and local procurement obligations of their licence conditions, many mining companies make this as part of their mission and core values by looking for opportunities to employ people from nearby communities, procure services from these communities where possible and by making payments to national technical training initiatives and to community development funds.

Current environmental provisions, however, do not align with modern business stakeholders’ expectations, relying heavily on environmental and social impacts assessments (ESIAs) to discern impacts and risks and on environmental and social management plans (ESMPs) to form the basis of obligations to protect the environment. The limitations of ESIA and ESMPs are known to regulators and mining companies and include: • Climate change • Mine waste management • Mine closure • Water management

Recently, whilst there has been some movement towards alternative energy sources, climate change impacts during operations and closure are not commonly covered, but there has been significant improvement in water management within ESIA and ESMPs, although these tend to focus on water treatment and compliant discharge rather than whole water stewardship, including water abstraction and maximising reuse.

Whilst legislative requirements are not fully developed and are typically quite weak from a social transitioning standpoint, and mine closure is typically not adequately covered at the exploration phase or in early-stage ESIA, several more established mining regions have developed closure requirements during operations which include quite well developed policies on financial bonding and requirements around stakeholder engagement within the closure planning process.

Similarly, mine waste management legislation is typically not well advanced; where there is a requirement to conduct geochemical characterisation, this is often not particularly prescriptive and tends to focus on short term characterisation rather than long term kinetic tests and associated predictive numerical modelling. Predictive numerical modelling which predicts the likely water quality that will be generated from a waste storage facility is required to inform useful mine waste management plans, not only saving operators money during operations and closure but, importantly for regulators, mitigating the occurrence of legacy operations with long term (in some cases perpetual) water treatment issues.

With corporate ESG standards placed front and centre during mining project development, West Africa has the opportunity to become a pioneer of the green economy by working hand in hand with regulators, investors, mining companies, local communities and other stakeholders.

1The WAEMU’s 2003 Regulation concerning the adoption of the Community Mining Code of WAEMU (Regulation 18/2003/CM/WAEMU) standardised the mining legislation in member states. ECOWAS introduced a Mining Directive in 2009 that has been transposed into the legislation of its 12 member states, transposition was required by July 2014.

Image courtesy of Fortuna Silver Mines