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Mining for Broad Based Socio-Economic: Why Climate Change Management Is So Important

By Tafadzwa Dhlakama

It has been a long cry for government and local host communities to have the mining sector contribute towards socio-economic development of the nation. The mining sectors contribution to socio-economic development is currently under threat due to climate change. For the first time, Zimbabwe Alternative Mining Indaba (ZAMI) 5th edition embraced climate change during broad based socio-economic development breakaway session. This is a milestone given that mining is by its inherent nature destructs the environment and disrupts community livelihoods. Key speakers during the mining for socio economic development break away session included Kudakwashe Zireva of Mhondongori Community Development Trust, Judith Kaulem of the Poverty Reduction Forum Trust and Verengai Mabika of Development Reality Institute.

Zimbabwe Alternative Mining Indaba is a multi-stakeholder engagement forum that explores opportunities and challenges related to the country’s mining sector. The forum was originally conceived to enable increased participation of often excluded stakeholders such as local host communities in the management and utilisation of mineral resources. Held under the theme “Mining Sector Reforms: A call for Economic, Social and Environmental Justice”, this importantly long overdue discussion on mining, climate change and community livelihoods was undertaken.

Mining companies’ actions such as dam construction have the capacity of affecting downstream water needs of communities and affecting the water table. Deterioration of underground water quality is also a potential hazard that mining operations have on the livelihoods of local communities. Emissions arising from mining activities and the clearing of land for open cast mining results in loss of forest cover meant to act as carbon sinks therefore exacerbating the impact of climate change in such areas.

Mineral resource governance is an important area insofar as climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies are concerned. There are many ways in which mining companies can exploit to reduce climate change shocks which wreak havoc on poor mining communities. Water stress induced by droughts, for instance, can be worsened by unsustainable water management practices of mining companies given their huge appetite for water in mining operations.

Judith Kaulem in her presentation highlighted the important role that mining operations can contribute towards poverty alleviation in local mining host communities. She stressed that given mining operations inherent environmental destructive nature and the finite nature of the resource, alleviation of poverty should be the ultimate mission of mining operations. Kudakwashe Zireva, gave an example of how Mimosa Mine has assisted local communities to adapt to climate change and simultaneously reduce poverty by investing in agriculture irrigation related projects. This is a noble initial step that should be commended in addressing local communal needs. The establishment of irrigation projects should however take into account the long run sustainability which is often neglected. These noble initiatives should often be complemented by smart agriculture and business entrepreneurship training’s which can aid in reducing donor dependency. Mining companies have also been noted to establish water transfer channels passing through arid communal areas which have little to no water access. Facilitation of water sharing arrangements in such scenarios with the communities would be a noble idea that can aid in contributing to socio-economic development.

Mining companies on the other hand spend a lot of resources as part of their Corporate Social Investments (CSIs) activities. These resources have been ear marketed for community ‘tangle’ facilities such as schools, roads and health all noble and critical interventions. Now more than ever, there is need to interrogate the prioritization of such interventions given the reality of the climatic shocks and the needs of the communities. Zimbabwe declared 2016 agricultural season a national disaster and it is in such circumstances that CSI actions by mining communities should be alive to the present needs of the mining communities.

While expectations from mining companies are high in the wake of climate change impacts, climate change management possess various opportunities upon which mining companies can leverage for resources mobilization. Verengai Mabika, reiterated the need for mining companies to tap onto opportunities provided by the Clean Development Mechanisms (CDM). CMD provides leeway for mining companies to reduce their emission footprint at the same time getting opportunities to embrace new technology. The assistance that comes from CDM efforts liberates financial resources that could be invested towards socio-economic development of the nation.

Climate change dialogue within the mineral recourse governance framework was a new and unique addition to the 5th edition of the ZAMI. There is therefore need to broaden the climate change discussion in the mineral resource sector to provincial, district and local level platforms. Furthermore, climate justice has the same face as tax justice. Disclosure by mining companies’ as to their carbon footprint, low carbon transition efforts and climate change related tax contributions provides clarity on the sectors seriousness in adding Zimbabwe meet its National Determined Contribution targets. Mining companies can therefore take advantage of platforms such as the ZAMI to show how there are embracing climate change issues within their operating environment.

Tafadzwa Dhlakama (@todhlakama) is a Legal researcher. He blogs at Tacking Climate Change through Law, Policy and Advocacy . Tafadzwa works with the Zimbabwe Environmental law Association