Gold mining has, over the past decade, been a growing industry in many host countries across Africa. For example, in Ghana – now Africa’s largest gold producer – gold accounts for about a quarter of the value of its total annual exports. And while global gold mine production has increased by 26 percent since 2010, in Africa it increased by almost 60 percent, and in at least 10 African countries this figure has more than doubled. The value of this gold and its contribution to the GDP of host countries increased even more rapidly.
While global gold mine production has increased by 26 percent since 2010, in Africa it has increased by almost 60 percent and in at least 10 African countries it has more than doubled.
When undertaken responsibly, gold mining can be of strategic importance in catalyzing positive change. This is extremely relevant when considering the challenges and opportunities presented by climate change, as well as the urgent need to mitigate its destructive impacts through rapid decarbonization.
The carbon footprint of the entire gold supply chain is rooted in the gold mining process and, to a large extent, in how mining operations generate or consume energy. Studies show that by moving significantly away from high-carbon energy sources – such as local diesel and heavy fuel oil generators or fossil fuel-powered grids – the industry can potentially decarbonise at a rate broadly aligned with the climate objectives of the Paris Agreement. Although the industry still needs to accelerate its transition to low-carbon energy, significant progress has been made in recent years and the opportunity for continued transformative actions is clear.
By seeking to decarbonize their operations, gold mining companies can also encourage the development of (and investment in) renewable energy in host countries. For example, by helping to introduce new technologies and infrastructure to places that otherwise would not have the capacity or incentive to initiate change.
In South Africa, for example, where emissions from gold mining are due to its connectivity to a largely coal-fired grid, the sector’s ability to influence government policy to allow companies and sites to produce their Clean clean energy can have impacts far beyond precious metals. industry. Changes in the regulatory landscape would then support the economic viability of national renewable energy systems, incentivizing suppliers to expand their operations and increase their local capacity.
In countries like Mali, Mauritania or the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where gold mines generally depend on self-production of electricity, they can be the “first to evolve” in the development of renewable energies . These projects are often undertaken through joint ventures with partners or local governments, which can create existing power systems that are expected to last well beyond the life of the gold mines. In recent years, we have seen such projects culminate in the development of solar power at the Essakane mine in Burkina Faso and the expansion of hydroelectric power at Kabili in the DRC. On a much smaller scale, gold mining companies are also promoting the use of mini-grids, often powered by solar energy, to support community infrastructure such as schools and medical centers.
The introduction of renewable energy can also trigger a transformation of local skills and expertise, which can provide employment opportunities and wider socio-economic benefits. These benefits will need to be encouraged – with continued support for gold mining in many African host countries – to help countries ensure a more inclusive and just transition.