President Akufo Addo has given the strongest hint of the intention by government to go ahead with the proposed bauxite exploration in the Atewa forest, despite strong resistance from the Non-Governmental Organisations, (NGOs) Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and other members of the public.

Delivering his State of the Nation (SONA) on Tuesday, the President revealed that, the Ghana Integrated Aluminium Development Corporation (GIADEC) has made good progress on the bauxite exploitation programme that will drive the country’s industrial transformation agenda.

“We are in the final stage of an open and transparent investor engagement process, and are in negotiations to select strategic investors to partner GIADEC for the bauxite mining and alumina refinery projects. The selected partners will be announced imminently”, he said.

Resistance towards mining in the Atewa forest

Atewa Forest is a Protected Forest Reserve, a Key Biodiversity Area, and meets the conditions for Alliance for Zero Extinction status. The forest is home to many endangered, endemic and rare plants and animals, over 100 of which are threatened or near threatened with extinction.

Four species are listed as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red list of Threatened Species, and many more as vulnerable. The forest is also home to five species believed to be endemic to the forest, meaning they are found nowhere else on Earth.

The forest is also the source for the Birim, Densu and Ayensu rivers, which provide water for some 5 million people, including residents of the capital, Accra.

This has compelled many organizations both local and international to resist the proposed mining in the biodiversity hotspots.

Not long ago, three global manufacturing companies such as BMW Group, Tetra Pak and Schűco International KG responded to concerns over the proposed use of aluminium to be mined from the bauxite deposit in the Atewa Forest reserve.

Their positions were communicated in letters to the Concerned Citizens of Atewa Landscape (CCAL), the grassroots movement advocating against bauxite mining in Atewa Forest.

The three companies are all members of the Aluminium Stewardship Initiative (ASI) established to certify members and their products in the bauxite-aluminium supply chain that meet its sustainability standards.

While the companies in their letters recognise the Ghana government’s desire to develop the aluminium sector for economic development and poverty reduction, they have firmly stated that, their commitments to sustainability would not be compromised.

All three companies pointed to their endorsement of the ASI’s social and environmental standards, and said they also want their suppliers to meet these same standards.

Threats to the forest

In July 2018, Ghana’s parliament approved an agreement with China’s Sinohydro Corporation Limited to build infrastructure projects including roads, hospitals, landfill sites, and industrial parks.

The Ghana government therefore identified the legally protected Atewa Forest as one of three sites to mine bauxite to support repayment of the USD 2 billion infrastructure loan from the People’s Republic of China.

Through GIADEC, plans are far advance by government to establish an integrated aluminium industry, to repay the loan with receipts from processed bauxite.

But, campaigners advocating for protection of the Atewa Forest have repeatedly stated that, mining bauxite in the Atewa Forest would not meet ASI’s requirements.

According to them, bauxite mining in Atewa would threaten species with global extinction, undermining the Convention on Biodiversity and the Sustainable Development Goals that both set clear targets to stop extinctions.

GIADEC cannot be trusted

GIADEC late last year published on its website that, its operation is in compliance with the Aluminum Stewardship Initiative’s (ASI) Performance standards.

On the ‘Sustainability’ page of its website, GIADEC stated that “The development of the aluminium industry in Ghana will be in compliance with the Aluminium Stewardship Initiative and its standards”.

These standards aim to ensure environmental, social, and governance sustainability along the bauxite and aluminium value chain.

But, in a statement published in the media on 21 October 2020 titled “GIADEC not conforming to national and international transparency and environmental standards”, environmental NGO, A Rocha Ghana disputed GIADEC's claim of compliance with the Aluminium Stewardship Initiative’s (ASI) Performance standards.

According A Rocha, given how far GIADEC has already progressed with its aluminium development agenda, the Corporation should by now be complying with the ASI Performance Standards since some of the requirements relate to pre-mining activities, but that these had not been complied with.

It was identified, in particular that, ASI compliance requires GIADEC to openly consult with affected communities and “to obtain their free prior and informed consent to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources”.

According to the environmental NGO, GIADEC’s consultations have instead been restrictive, citing evidence from GIADEC’s so-called community engagement at Asiakwa, Kibi

The statement by A Rocha also highlighted lack of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) prior to the exploratory drilling in the protected Atewa Forest despite this being a legal requirement under Ghana’s laws. The ASI standards also require an EIA as well as compliance with Ghana’s laws.

By Awudu Salami Sulemana Yoda- Accra