A new US$180 million Global Environmental Facility (GEF) programme aims to improve the working conditions for artisanal and small scale miners (ASGM) in Guyana and seven other countries while slashing harmful mercury emissions.
The Global Opportunities for the Long-term Development (GOLD) of the AGSM sector aims to reduce the use of mercury in the sector and introduce and facilitate access to mercury –free extraction methods, while also working with governments to formalize the sector, promoting miners rights, safety and their access to markets.
GEF is a partnership of a number of agencies including United Nations bodies.
According to a press statement from Conservation International-Guyana the backers of the programme have noted that urgent action is needed to protect the millions of men, women and children exposed to toxic levels of mercury through gold production every year.
“Every year, more than 2,700 tonnes of gold is mined around the world. 20% of that- over 500 tonnes annually- is produced by …the ASGM sector [which] is also the world’s single largest source of man-made mercury emissions, releasing as much as 1,000 tonnes of mercury (almost 40 per cent of the global total) into the atmosphere every year,” the statement explains.
The five-year programme is a partnership between the GEF, the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Environment Programme, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization and Conservation International. The Guyanese government as well as the government of Burkina Faso, Colombia, Indonesia, Kenya, Mongolia, the Philippines and Peru are also listed as partners.
“By phasing out mercury use and connecting miners to markets for responsibly produced and sourced minerals, GEF GOLD will help to ensure the gold value chain both supports miners and provides consumers with access to ethically produced, environmentally sustainable gold,” Jacob Duer, Head of the UN Environment Chemicals and Health branch is quoting as saying.
He added that “promoting and facilitating access to non-mercury processing techniques for artisanal and small-scale miners is vital- not only to reduce mercury emissions, but to protect the health of vulnerable communities” since studies indicate that mercury exposure in ASGM is a major, largely neglected global health problem.
GEF GOLD therefore aims to secure miners’ livelihoods, through opening up the access to markets and finance needed to increase incomes and enable the uptake of mercury-free technology.
By phasing out mercury use, the programme aims to achieve eventual mercury emission reductions of 369 tonnes, supporting countries’ commitments under the Minamata Convention on Mercury to reduce and, where feasible, eliminate mercury use in the sector.
Additionally the GEF GOLD programme will work with the private sector across industries and partners including the Better Gold Initiative, Alliance for Responsible Mining and Fairtrade International to promote compliance with international standards on responsible mineral supply chains.