Global community describe bauxite mining in Atewa forest as highly risky venture post COVID-19

Over 260 organizations from across the world have petitioned the Chinese Ministry of Commerce and copied over 10 Chinese institutions not to include projects that directly impact local environments, communities, and livelihoods, in their COVID-19 financial support.

This they said is due to pre-existing risks or controversies which were apparent long before the onset of the pandemic and if pursued, some of these projects would harm and or destroy forests, marine, desert, river, or other increasingly fragile and remaining intact ecosystems, and the people who depend upon them.

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China’s Ministry of Commerce and the China Development Bank (CDB) in February jointly issued a “notice on the COVID-19 Pandemic Situation and Development of Financial Services in Supporting the High-Quality Joint-Construction of the Belt and Road”.

But in a letter to the Chinese authorities, the over 260 organizations, of which A Rocha Ghana is one, identified 60 projects as ‘High-Risk Projects’ of which the planned bauxite mining in Atewa Forest being pursued by the Ghana Integrated Aluminium Development Corporation is part.

The letter states that the COVID-19 pandemic lays bare the fact that international cooperation and transparency are crucial to ensure and maintain a healthy planet.

The COVID-19 has painfully highlighted how climate change and biodiversity loss hamper humanity’s ability to effectively combat pandemics, and it is clear that preemptively protecting the natural world plays a critical role in controlling future outbreaks.

The Organizations said, in qualifying projects as “high quality”, they believed that environmental and social issues such as Local community consultations are done according to Free, Prior, Informed Consent (FPIC) standards, per the 169 International Labor Organization Convention and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“Environmental impact assessments are robust, credible, comprehensive, transparent, assess the full range of available alternatives, and account for cumulative impacts and Project developers and financiers institute robust, accessible, and clear channels of communication with all relevant local stakeholders”.

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Among the issues are also that all relevant project information, such as pre-feasibility assessments, environmental impact assessments, project information, and other relevant information, should be disclosed (in the appropriate local language) to affected communities and stakeholders and allow for public feedback and participation starting from the earliest planning phases to allow for better inclusive decision-making.

Also, projects should comply with international norms and best practices, including existing Chinese green finance policies such as the Green Credit Guidelines, Projects should not negatively impact internationally  (that is those protected by international conventions including World Heritage, Ramsar,) or national protected areas, key biodiversity areas, and old-growth or primary forests and Projects should not block free-flowing rivers, biological corridors, or migratory routes of animals listed by conventions on migratory species ( that is the Bonn Convention).

The issues are also that projects should not contribute to the extinction of threatened species (that is, per the IUCN Red List), Projects should not trigger or exacerbate political, ethnic, labour, religious, intra-community, or resource-sharing domestic or transboundary conflicts and Projects should not result in mass or involuntary displacement of local or indigenous communities, and should not encroach on cultural and religious sites.
A Rocha Ghana and several NGOs in Ghana believe that mining Bauxite in Atewa Forest is not eligible for the Chinese COVID-19 financial support or only be eligible if all concerns related to design and implementation are not appropriately and effectively addressed to the satisfaction of local communities and stakeholders.

At its core, the high-risk projects are based on criteria identified in the Ministry of Commerce and CDB announcement, that projects of “high quality”, comply with local laws, and have “controllable risks,” of which the Atewa Bauxite Mining Project did not meet.

The Atewa Forest bauxite mining will not contribute to a healthy recovery in the global economy, and may even intensify the environmental drivers – such as biodiversity loss, climate change, habitat destruction, loss of primary forests, disruption of free-flowing rivers – which increase the likelihood of recurring global pandemics in the future.

Ghanaian NGOs are asking the government to exclude Atewa Forest from bauxite mining to secure crucial water provisioning services, biodiversity protection and climate mitigation.

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