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Is the mining sector key to achieving Sustainable Development Goals?

Artisanal and small-scale mining offers opportunities to generate jobs, reduce poverty, and provide livelihoods, but this sector has been largely ignore...

Dale Benton
|Nov 2|magazine11 min read

Artisanal and small-scale mining offers opportunities to generate jobs, reduce poverty, and provide livelihoods, but this sector has been largely ignored by policy-makers and donors. Those were the thoughts of Yanchun Zhang from UNCTAD’s Special Unit on Commodities.

However, she also highlighted the often-poor management of the sector which leads to serious health and environmental risks.

“Artisanal gold mining, which accounts for more than 10 percent of the global gold supply, releases an estimated 1,000 tons of toxic mercury per year," she said.

She was speaking at the Annual General Meeting of the Intergovernmental Forum on Mining, Minerals, Metals and Sustainable Development (IGF). The forum brings together 250 participants from 39 member and 14 non-member countries as well as representatives from international organisations, industry associations, companies and civil society.

The three-day AGM in Geneva discussed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as well as development of the mining sector while working to enhance capacity for governance at all stages of the mining life cycle.

What is Intergovernmental Forum on Mining, Minerals, Metals and Sustainable Development?

IGF emerged from the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa after delegates recognised the challenges and opportunities related to mining and sustainable development.

It is aimed at enhancing capacities to achieve sustainable development objectives through good governance in the mining sector. IGF is devoted to optimizing the benefits of mining to achieve poverty reduction, inclusive growth, social development and environmental stewardship.

The IGF has a flagship policy guidance and assessment tool, the Mining Policy Framework (MPF). This framework sets out objectives and processes for good governance, focusing on key areas such as Legal and Policy Environment, Financial Benefit Optimisation, Post-Mining Transition, Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining and Environmental Management.

United Nations conference on Trade and Development Propsoerity for All

UNCATD is an organisation that supports developing countries by prociding access to the benefitis of a globalised economy more fairly and effectively. This is achieved through analysis, consensus-building and technical assistance allowing them to use trade, investment, finance and technology as vehicles for inclusive and sustainable development.

The organisation is made up of 194 countries around the world and hopes to provide prosperity for all, working closely with governments and partnerships with the private sector and civil society to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Takeaways from the event

The main talking point of the AGM was how the activities of the mining sector could be harmonised with the 17 SDG’s, in particular clean water and sanitation, decent work and economic growth, prevention of tax evasion and creating better synergies among different parts of government, leveraging public and private finance, sharing expertise and promotion international collaboration.

The MPF was highlighted as a key opportunity to further these goals, revealing a number of strengths of the MPF as a sector-specific framework for achieving them. A key highlight was suggesting the sector could ensure integrated social, economic and environmental assessments.

There was also a focus on the value that the MPF assessment process itself holds for participating countries, and then shifted to how countries have integrated assessment findings and strengthened capacities into mining law, policy and institutions. 

Looking to the future….

Mining continues to play a key role in the economic growth of several resource-rich developing countries, but this growth has often failed to generate any meaningful benefits for the countries' populations. Artisanal mining may offer opportunities in this respect.

"As a labour-intensive mining process widely conducted on an informal basis, artisanal and small-scale mining is known to generate jobs, reduce poverty, and provide livelihoods for millions of people," Ms. Zhang said in her closing remarks.

"To a large extent, artisanal and small-scale miners remain ignored and marginalized by policy makers, donors, and the general public," she added.


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