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Second phase of planetGOLD doubles countries addressing mercury in ASGM

March 31, 2021

Director, GOLD+ Program, Conservation International


Artisanal small gold miners at work in Kenya
The ASGM sector is the world’s largest source of global mercury pollution, accounting for around one-third of total annual anthropogenic mercury air emissions. Photo: UNEP

As an implementing agency for the GEF-funded planetGOLD program, Conservation International has been proud to help deliver this innovative global initiative that supports countries in addressing mercury use in artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM). Now, we are excited to take on a new role by leading an expansion of planetGOLD, which will broaden efforts by adding eight additional countries to the program: Bolivia, Ghana, Honduras, Madagascar, Nigeria, Republic of the Congo, Suriname, and Uganda.

This second phase will continue to promote existing core planetGOLD activities and strategies—working to close the financing gap, connecting mining communities with mercury-free technology and formal markets, and raising awareness—while placing special emphasis on promoting holistic, multisectoral, and integrated approaches to formalization.

“As the major source of mercury, ASGM is a high priority and the GEF is happy to support this second phase of planetGOLD with the addition of eight new countries,” says Anil Sookdeo, Coordinator of the GEF’s chemicals and waste team. “This program will bring thousands of miners into the formal economy and mobilize the sustainable financing that they need to succeed.”

Map of planetGOLD projects
Data sources for the graphic by planetGOLD include: Country ASGM National Action Plans, UNEP Global Mercury Assessment 2018, FERENPROMIN, Nigeria Ministry of Mines and Steel Development, World Gold Council, Ghana Minerals Commission

The ASGM sector is the world’s largest source of global mercury pollution, according to the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Global Mercury Assessment, accounting for around one-third of total annual anthropogenic mercury air emissions. This sector provides employment for 10-20 million miners in over 80 countries and produces roughly 20% of the world’s gold. While millions of livelihoods rely on this industry, the inadvertent effects of gold extraction threaten the global environment and the well-being of societies around the world.

The second phase of planetGOLD will focus on bringing new approaches to formalize the ASGM sector by piloting jurisdictional approaches to sustainability that focus on areas defined by local and regional administrative boundaries and that reconcile social, economic, and environmental objectives through participation across stakeholders and sectors and with government involvement.

“As the lead agency for the second phase of planetGOLD, Conservation International is excited to pilot jurisdictional and landscape approaches as an innovative way to approach ASGM formalization,” says Miguel Morales, Senior Vice-President, CI-GEF/GCF Agencies. “Conservation International has successfully used jurisdictional and landscape approaches to achieve sustainability commitments in several other supply chains including palm oil, coffee, and fish. Not only will this approach improve ASGM formalization, but it will also produce mechanisms better suited to address off-site issues like watershed health, biodiversity conservation, and deforestation.”

Jurisdictional approaches will explore sub-national level collaboration to find solutions to issues around illicit mercury trade, harmonization of fiscal regimes and policy frameworks, accounting for climate change in ASGM, setting policy targets for mercury reduction, and supporting transparent sourcing of gold that meets criteria for responsible practices and good governance. Through this jurisdictional approach, priorities and initiatives will be identified with potential to provide leverage through collaboration and common objectives, thus institutionalizing the interventions at both the sub-national and national levels.

“With this innovative approach to formalization the planetGOLD program will be able to fully support participating countries in their efforts to reduce mercury emissions and ensure the sector provides employment to rural communities without adding to the environmental burden,” says Ludovic Bernaudat, program manager for the initial phase of planetGOLD and Senior Task Manager for UNEP’s Chemicals and Waste branch.

Other integral parts of the program will continue to be introduced and emphasized in these countries, including access to finance and formal markets, mercury-free technology transfer, capacity building, maximizing the impact of communications at the local miner level, and knowledge sharing across the global ASGM sector. New and innovative approaches such as online education opportunities and digital marketing will be used to complement more traditional participatory workshops and training models.

Set to commence in late 2021, the GEF-funded program Global Opportunities for Long-Term Development of Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining (ASGM) Sector – Plus will be co-implemented by Conservation International, UNEP, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), in collaboration with a range of other partners.