NGOs Propose Ban on Mining in Key Environmental Area

The following post is a media release form The Endangered Wildlife Trust

The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) and 10 other Non-governmental Organisations, led by the Centre for Environmental Rights, have proposed a list of areas of critical environmental value, where mining and prospecting should be prohibited.

This is in the national interest and is in compliance with many legislative imperatives, including the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. The proposal supports the sustainable development of South Africa’s mineral resources, whilst at the same time ensuring the protection of our most precious and sensitive natural environments, which, amongst others, will assist our country to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

The proposal is a formal application by non-government and civil society organisations to the Minister of Mineral Resources to exercise her discretion under Section 49 of the Minerals and Petroleum Resources Development Act, 2002 (MPRDA), having regard to the national interest and the need to promote the sustainable development of the nation’s mineral resources, to prohibit or restrict granting reconnaissance, prospecting and mining rights and permits.

The exploitation of mineral resources is a key tenet of the South African economy. However, both underground and surface mining has significant impacts on the environment including the soil, water resources, geological stability, biodiversity and air quality. All these elements are essential for human health and wellbeing, and it is therefore critical that the detrimental impacts of mining are appropriately controlled and mitigated to ensure that future livelihoods and other forms of economic activity are not compromised.

Mining also contributes both directly and indirectly to climate change, and has been identified as a key factor in developing plans for climate change adaptation and mitigation in the most recent National Climate Change Response Strategy 2010 currently out for comment. For example, some mining operations, especially large-scale open-caste mines, not only release carbon into the atmosphere but also reduce natural carbon-sequestration capacity and may also increase water stress due to water use and/or pollution.

In September 2010, national government launched the “Outcome 10 Delivery Agreement”, which recorded “The inability of the current spatial planning and land use management system to integrate mineral development has resulted in the latter occurring in areas where it permanently sterilised areas of high agricultural potential or impacted severely on sensitive and prioritised ecosystems. Mineral development priority areas should with equal standing “compete” in a spatial planning and land use management system with other policy imperatives such as biodiversity protection, food security, water security, etc. The inclusion of mineral development in the spatial planning and land use management system and identification of agreed “mining restriction areas” is accordingly an important step in doing things differently towards achieving the desired outcome.”

Areas included in the list of no-go mining zones in the proposal are:

  • World Heritage Areas;
  • Special nature reserves, national parks or nature reserves;
  • Marine protected areas;
  • Specially protected forest areas such as the Wolkberg Wilderness in Limpopo, forest nature reserves and forest wilderness areas;
  • Mountain catchment areas;
  • Ramsar Sites; and
  • Recognised endangered and critically endangered ecosystems.

Furthermore, guidelines are provided for restricting prospecting and mining in a number of important biodiversity and hydrological areas not included in the above list.

These areas have either heritage, or environmental value which far outstrips the short-terms to be made through mining operations that may result in their destruction and demarcating them ‘no-go’ zones for mining and prospecting will ensure their protection for future generations. “This proposal is meant to assist and guide both government and mining companies to pro-actively avoid areas of the highest sensitivity and greatest environmental importance” says EWT CEO Yolan Friedmann. “It must be remembered that mining is just one form of land use and just one form of extracting benefits from the environment for human development and job creation. These areas contribute significantly to human wellbeing in a number of other critical ways which include alternative forms of employment which are often more sustainable, the provision of life-supporting ecosystem services such as water purification and food production, and the conservation of many highly threatened species. It is possible to balance both short and long-term plans and many forms of development if one plans proactively and determines strategically what is the best option for key areas. This is what we are trying to do through this proposal.”

The Endangered Wildlife Trust is not against environmentally sensitive and responsible mining, but does not support mining that destroys the environment to the detriment of our economy and livelihoods. The EWT further recognises the importance of balancing the needs of a variety of stakeholders, both present and future, in determining what areas are appropriate for mining and what areas are not. Whilst modern technology and mining processes have reduced the environmental damage resulting from some mines, and improved options for varying forms of rehabilitation, complete rehabilitation is seldom possible and mining remains a land use with significant impacts which should be avoided at all costs in our most precious environments.

The EWT is currently a member of the a coalition of civil society organisations that aims to prevent any further development of the intended opencast and underground coal mine that is to be located less than 6 km from the Mapungubwe National Park and the Mapungubwe World Heritage site. The EWT is also involved in two biodiversity conservation projects within the Chrissiesmeer Lake District, a unique pan system with a near pristine ecology, where at least five mining and prospecting applications are currently being considered. Furthermore, the EWT supports the Groot Marico community in its opposition to mining in the sensitive Groot Marico River catchment area. These areas are of particular concern to the EWT as they fall within the list of areas being put forward as no-go zones for mining, with the Mapungubwe area being a World Heritage Site and the Chrissiesmeer Lake District and Groot Marico River Catchment being proposed as Wetlands of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention. The Groot Marico Catchment area is furthermore a recognised endangered ecosystem through the National Freshwater Ecosystem Priority Areas, a project that is mapping freshwater priority areas for South Africa.

The EWT calls upon the Minister to recognise the proactive role that the 11 organisations are playing and ask for her assistance in preventing conflict and conserving our country. We look forward to her taking up this opportunity to engage in this critical issue.

The full list of Non-Government and Civil Society Organisations involved are:

  • BirdLife South Africa
  • Centre for Applied Legal Studies
  • Earthlife Africa
  • Endangered Wildlife Trust
  • Environmental Monitoring Group
  • Federation for a Sustainable Environment
  • National Association of Conservancies/Stewardship of SA
  • South Durban Community Environmental Alliance
  • Wilderness Foundation
  • Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa
  • WWF South Africa

Contact: Yolan Friedmann

CEP: Endangered Wildlife Trust

Tel: +27 (0) 11 486 1102

Email: yolanf@ewt.org.za

Or

EWT media office

Tel: +27 (0)11 486 1102

Email: media@ewt.org.za

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One Response to “NGOs Propose Ban on Mining in Key Environmental Area”

  1. Cameron von Bratt February 4, 2011 11:38 am
    #

    As an Aquatic Ecologist, I see the degredation to South Africa’s and other African countries rivers, wetlands and estuaries on a daily basis. These systems are over-stressed and are fast becoming less productive and functional, in some cases, and others are totally lost/degraded in other cases. As all life on this planet is solely dependant on water, and our very human existiance dependant on freshwater, these ecosystems need to be protected at the highest level with no exception. In additon, already degraded and polluted systems need to be rehabilitated in order to provide both human and ecological needs.

    This matter extends beyond biodiversity, conservation or economic strategies, and may potentially become at stragegy of survival in the very near future… Science has already predicted and forewarned this, and yet the problems and pressures are ever increasing!

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