At Indaba Mining, the annual gathering Feb. 3-5 in Cape Town of leaders of Africa’s mining sector—from government, corporations and civil society—the words “sustainability” and “stakeholder outreach” were ubiquitous. This focus on sustainability issues reflects impressive progress made in recent years around how mining can contribute to shared value.
Mining is a high stakes industry. For the growing list of countries looking to translate underground assets into tangible benefits above the ground, the ability to negotiate and implement a good deal is critical. However, capacities to do so are often weak. A handy resource is now available to help countries. And it’s free!
Most experts agree that energy efficiency is a critical building block for sustainable development. This is because improvements in energy efficiency strengthen a country’s energy security, increase competitiveness, ease shortages in energy supply, and lower environmental impacts including local and greenhouse gas emissions.
Why doesn’t it happen then?
I am a mining specialist, not a conflict specialist. But on my recent trip to Sierra Leone, I was struck by the ever-present need to look at extractive industries through the lens of conflict prevention. The devastating 11-year civil war in Sierra Leone, in large part fueled by local alluvial diamond mining, is impossible to separate from future mining development. With over 50,000 deaths due to the civil war, we cannot ignore the link between conflict and mining.
“Kaatiyabaaz” is a compelling documentary film that highlights the power crisis in Kanpur, a city of three million people in north India.
It has all the elements of a steamy Hindi movie: 45-degree Celsius heat, power outages that last 12-15 hours, and illegal connections that come up every night and disappear in the morning. The everyday characters are gripping too. There’s a Robin-Hood-like street electrician who “provides power” by hooking to transmission lines. An upright bureaucrat (a woman, imagine that!) trying to get people to pay their bills and prevent theft. A city full of tired, angry citizens fed up with poor service provided. The film underlines how people will do whatever it takes to get some juice in their wires so that they can get lights, fans, water…the basic necessities of 20th century life.
Between 2007 and 2011, Peru doubled electricity access rates from 30 percent of households to over 60 percent. The national rural electrification program has been supported by US$50 million in World Bank financing and US$10 million from the Global Environment Facility (GEF).
This is a remarkable achievement, but to make sure that the new opportunities benefit local people in rural areas, an additional initiative was launched. This “productive uses of electricity” pilot project adapted lessons from two World Bank-supported activities in Indonesia under which the national utility reached out to local communities through NGOs.
In July, the U.S. Department of Energy and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) released reports (see U.S. Energy Sector Vulnerabilities to Climate Change and Extreme Weather and Water-Smart Power: Strengthening the U.S. Electricity System in a Warming World) highlighting the energy sector’s vulnerability to future water constraints. The reports’ findings paint a worrisome picture: currently, 60% of coal power plants in the U.S. are experiencing water stress; hydropower is threatened due to more frequent and severe droughts; and energy infrastructure is endangered by water variability due to climate change.
Water is critical for producing power, and vice versa. Almost all energy generation processes require significant amounts of water, and the treatment and transport of water requires energy, mainly in the form of electricity. Even though the interdependency between water and energy is gaining wider recognition worldwide, water and energy planning often remain distinct. The tradeoffs involved in balancing one need against the other in this “energy-water nexus,” as it is called, are often not clearly identified or taken into account, complicating possible solutions.