MINERALS, ENERGY TRANSITION AND DIGITAL REVOLUTION
The environmental cost of mining in the DRC
The Democratic Republic of Congo is full of more than 1,100 known mineral substances of extreme diversity. Among these minerals, there are strategic minerals for the energy transition and the digital revolution that the world needs to not only mitigate, moderate, adapt but also to combat the effects of climate change.
Indeed, mineral resources can constitute a considerable potential in the development of nations. Their better exploitation and management can contribute to the improvement of the living conditions of the peoples. The city, like California, in the United States, was built by and with gold mines. Several great mining nations around the world, such as the USA, Canada, Australia, Chile, China and even South Africa, have benefited greatly from their mineral resources for their economies and thus have an impact on the living conditions of their populations.
These mineral resources, which can be potential for development, can also have negative socio-economic, environmental and cultural impacts if they are exploited under conditions of poor political, economic, social and environmental governance. In this sense, the ecological threat is not a pure vision for the DRC. The environmental impacts and costs of industrial and artisanal mining are enormous in the DRC.
This article aims to illustrate some environmental impacts of mining in the DRC, which affect the climate (1), how the Arrupe Center for Research and Training (CARF) addresses this issue (2) and what is the impact of CARF’s work.
- Mining in the DRC and environmental impacts
The environment is defined as the set of elements (biotic or abiotic) that surround an individual or a species and some of which contribute directly to their needs; or as the set of natural conditions (physical, chemical, biological) and cultural (sociological) likely to affect living organisms and human activities. In all countries of the world, extractive activities such as mining have a major impact on the environment. But this is even more accentuated in countries with a deficit of governance. For more than 25 years the DRC has been confronted with a national and sub-regional context of recurring political and security tensions in the Great Lakes region of Africa.
This situation also affects the mining economy of the DRC. In this context, mining activities namely; exploration, exploitation and marketing of minerals have a huge environmental cost.
Indeed, in such a tense geopolitical and geostrategic context, geo-economics and the mining economy of war have fueled armed conflicts, rebellions and cross-border criminal economic gangs.
The United Nations Panel on the Illegal Exploitation of the Resources of the DRC concluded in 2002, after three reports published on the issue since 2000, asserting that there is a link between mining in the DRC and the continuation of the war or rebellions.
To regulate this exploitation, a liberal mining code had been adopted in the DRC in 2002. This code was amended in March 2018. The 2002 Code liberalized the mining in the DRC, which before that date was under the monopoly regime of the State. One of the innovations of this code was the introduction of environmental impact studies before the start of any mining project.
It is clear that despite the mining code of 2002, mining has had enormous environmental impacts in the DRC. The case of the mining province of the former Katanga is eloquent in this matter. But the situation in Katanga is not, in fact, very different from the other mining provinces of the DRC: the two Kivu; the former Province Orientale…
Given the lack of progress in protecting the environment during mining in the DRC, the new mining code of 2018 has hardened the tone: now we are talking about environmental and social impact studies; and crimes against the environment are from now, and this is a first in the world, imprescriptible. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is now legal and mandatory and is no longer voluntary.
- The impact of the mining industry on the environment in Katanga DRC
This industrial mining has a huge impact in the DRC.
First, the topographical framework of exploitation: based on the forest concession system, the mining companies occupy vast land and forest concessions with all the biodiversity. To exploit these vast concessions, it is necessary to pass to the cut of the wood. For example, acres of forests are devastated for industrial mining; while, we know how forests are a bulwark against global warming, we understand the extent of the damage that this deforestation causes on the climate. In addition to the destroyed forests, all the biodiversity is lost.
Then, the processes and methods of extraction: after mining, ores are usually concentrated before being subjected to metallurgical treatment. Nearly all mining and mineral processing companies in the DRC use the concentration method. In Katanga, the concentration processes applied are flotation and gravity concentration. And the concentrates obtained by this method pass to the treatment plant by the pyrometallurgical method: which results in leaching and electrolysis. These processes, which also use a lot of acid and sulfur, can really contaminate and pollute not only air, water but also the earth.
Finally, the transport of ores and inputs: it is by road, through trucks, that the transport of ores extracted in the former Katanga and east of the DRC, for the ports of Mombasa in Kenya, from Dar-es-Salam, and to ports in South Africa for marketing outside the African continent. Inputs like acids follow the same path. When these trucks pass, they leak contaminated dust particles that pollute the air. In concrete terms, the mining project can affect the physical, biological and sociological environment. The most recurrent impacts in Katanga can be,
* At the physical level of Katanga:
- Air quality: emissions that pollute the air
- The quality of groundwater and surface water: practices and processes that pollute water and affect their availability as flow
- Soil quality: practices and processes that pollute or degrade soil quality in Katanga.
- Emissions directly related to the process: – Treatment plant (emissions of chimneys composed of volatile organic compounds (VOC) – Mine site: dust from bare surfaces and materials handled and emissions from vehicles – Waste rock: dust from bare surfaces; – tailings area: evaporation and dust from the surface of the dike
- Disappearance of forest species, flora, fauna and agricultural land….
These impacts inevitably affect the climate and our common home. In addition, the mining industry is energy intensive and does not create a lot of less skilled jobs for local communities. Due to the lack of sufficient energy to operate the mines in the DRC, the national electricity company provides the high capacity of its services to the needs of the mining companies. This penalizes households and families. In industrial mining areas, for lack of electricity, households use wood for cooking. Deforestation for cooking charcoal is a lucrative activity is essential for many poor families. This situation creates huge environmental problems in the mining areas.
1.2. The impact of mining crafts on the environment
As for industrial mines, mining craftsmanship also has a certain impact on the environment. Artisanal activities affect the environment in the construction phase of artisanal wells for the extraction of artisanal ores. In Katanga, it is mainly copper and cobalt mines that are exploited in an artisanal way. There are artisanal mines of cassiterite and gold in some areas of the former Katanga. In the regions of Kivu and the former Province Orientale, there are Coltan mines, cassiterite, gold and diamond mines, as well as in Kassai and ex-Ecuador. The artisanal mining activity directly or indirectly affects more than 20,000,000 Congolese.
But the processes for the construction of extraction wells are harmful for the environment: it implies deforestation and logging. This deforestation is a real ecological disaster next to the holes left by this exploitation. In addition, methods of cleaning copper and cobalt ores in Katanga on a traditional basis are a source of pollution of water and air, soil. The artisanal mining of artisanal gold with methods that use mercury is a real source of water pollution. Mining crafts with its methods of deforestation also contribute to global warming.
- 2. Mines and climate change: the positioning of the CARF
2.1. How does CARF position address this issue?
In this context, where mining largely affects the environment and contributes to climate change, CARF, a Jesuit non-profit association in Central Africa, based in Lubumbashi, Katanga, in a mining area, since 2013 has taken over option to promote integral and inclusive sustainable development. CARF aims to be a reference in strategic thinking, research and innovative actions for the solidarity and sustainable development of the Congolese people, by 2030. It’s mission is to disseminate a Christian vision of economic development, socio-political and cultural, especially in the circles of thought and social action in the Democratic Republic of Congo and especially in the former province of Katanga, through the eastern and south-eastern regions of the country and the entire DRC. One of CARF’s social missions is the governance of mining and forestry resources through corporate social, economic and environmental responsibility
For this three cells were created at CARF: research, training and documentation. These three cells work in synergy. The research cell has three departments:
- Peace, Justice and Reconciliation
- Governance of natural resources
- Development support.
It is this department of natural resource governance that deals with the mining issue. The issue of mines and the environment is complex and needs to be addressed holistically. At the heart of these issues is the question of good mining and environmental governance. This is why CARF in 2014 took the option of focusing on good mining governance; the social and environmental responsibility of mining companies. In this context, research and surveys are conducted on mining governance in the DRC and on the social and environmental responsibility of mining companies as well as artisanal mining cooperatives. This research is published. They are also subject to training in CSR and promotion of good environmental practices among mining companies and artisanal miners as well as local communities.
Finally, from this overview, we are preparing an advocacy plan for the protection of environmental rights with mining companies and public authorities as well as at international level through partner networks. With its Natural Resources Governance Department, CARF has already conducted and published several studies and research in the field of Congolese artisanal and industrial mining, of which here are some titles:
- Selective Bibliography on the Impact of Mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Second Semester 2013
- Report of the survey of the state of mining in North Katanga & South Kivu: Case of TANGANYIKA, NYABIBWE and NYAMURALE, April 2015
- Economic, social and cultural rights in the context of mining, November 2015
- Challenges of COP21. Corporate Governance Ecological Governance, January 2016
- Artisanal mining in R & D. Congo: Problems, Challenges and Prospects. Study conducted at the Kipushi and Kolwezi mining sites, March 2016
- Survey report on the application of social, economic and environmental obligations by mining companies: Case of TenkeFungurume Mining (TFM), in
- The conflict in the exploitation of Cobalt (2019)
In addition, since 2015, CARF has been working on its project on good governance of the mining sector on training courses in Corporate Social Responsibility for mining companies and mining cooperatives in the DRC.
2.1. New approach: strategic minerals and the energy transition
In the face of the growing ecological threat and global warming, the international community, since the United Nations Conference on the Environment in 1972, and the 1987 Brundtland Report (Our Common Future), through the Earth Summit (Rio) 1992, strives to find solutions to climate change. Summits, the issue of global warming is needed, but without solutions. The Kyoto Protocol has been a dead letter for several years. Conferences of the Parties (COPs) succeed each other, without any real success on the reduction of greenhouse gases, in this case: Carbon Dioxide (CO2), Methane (CH4), Nitrous Oxide (N20), Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) ), Perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and Sulfur Hexafluoride (SF6).
But since 2016, the stakes of the energy transition are focused on a few ores known as strategic minerals of energy transition and digital revolution. Indeed, some minerals can offer solutions to the problems of global warming. These are the ores of technology for the production of certain types of renewable energies such as wind, solar …But, moreover, it is about the ores for the manufacture of rechargeable batteries for electric vehicles (which do not pollute) and the digital industry: in this case Cobalt, Lithium, Coltan, Germanium, Manganese and Graffite. From the revolution of electric vehicles, we plan to switch to electric planes with rechargeable batteries with Cobalt. This contributes to the global revolution that would contribute to the reduction of green-house gas emissions. The electric vehicle market is in full development; that of the digital revolution too. But if these technologies will have a positive impact downstream in the West, the environmental cost that this imposes and assumes for the producing countries of these strategic minerals, such as the DRC which alone produces more than 65% of the Cobalt in the world, is enormous: real environmental crimes downstream.
Given this situation, CARF has positioned itself as the first in this field in the DRC to combine the energy transition, the digital revolution in the world and environmental impacts in the DRC. A high-level conference was organized in 2018 on the environmental stakes of strategic minerals and the well-being of Congolese. Advocacy followed with international partners at the level of major German automobile production brands.
In the same vein, the CARF is preparing a digital mechanism for the promotion, protection and alerting of human and environmental rights in the mining areas of Katanga. A mechanism that aims at promoting good CSR and environmental practices, as well as the rating of mining companies that comply with environmental and ecological standards. A mechanism that will also serve to prevent and resolve social, economic and environmental conflicts related to the exploitation and commercialization of minerals in the DRC.
By the end of 2019, CARF will organize a major international conference on the stakes of strategic energy transition and digital revolution minerals related to environmental and social impacts in African producing countries.
- Impacts of CARF activities
In the five years of existence, it would be difficult to truly measure the impacts of CARF’s work on mining and environmental protection in Katanga and the DRC. All in all, it can be said that our studies and publications have reached a large number of beneficiaries. These people have been sensitized on environmental issues. CSR training in environmental and social impact studies for mining, artisanal and local communities and mining cooperatives has borne fruit: a greater awareness to protect the environment. Network advocacy has made CARF known in the DRC, as well as abroad, as increasingly a center for support, promotion and protection of environmental rights in the mining environment.
Jacques NZUMBU Mwanga, SJ
Lubumbashi, the 27/04/2019
World Bank, Democratic Republic of Congo. Good Governance in the Mining Sector as a Growth Factor, October 2007, p. 20.
 Apostolic Project of the Central African Province of the Society of Jesus, Loyola Editions, 2012, p.35,