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20 may 2024

In 2021 De Beers, which has operations in southern Africa and Canada, set an ambitious target of becoming carbon neutral by 2030.

The diamond miner had been working with its rough diamond customers known as Sightholders to understand their environmental commitments and journey towards carbon neutrality.

It developed, with the help of the Carbon Trust, a set of tools that it requires its Sightholders to complete.

This includes specific questions within the Best Practice Principles (BPP) Workbook and a Carbon Footprint Template Questionnaire based on the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, the first of its kind within the diamond industry.

De Beers said that only 38% of its Sightholders completed both the Carbon Footprinting Questionnaire and the BPP Workbook questions in 2023.

The diamond group said it also progressed the implementation of its De Beers Group-level Integrated Water Management Plan, which draws on the modelling of water-saving opportunities at all its operations in water-scarce areas.

De Beers said as part of its fossil fuel replacement strategy, it is pursuing three major renewable energy projects in southern Africa in collaboration with Envusa Energy, a new company jointly formed by Anglo American and EDF Renewables. These include a 520MW of wind and solar PV capacity in South Africa, of which Venetia mine has contracted to take 48MW; a 50MW on-site PV power plant at Venetia mine and a 34MW wind farm at Namdeb’s land-based operations in Namibia.

Below are excerpts from De Beers’ latest Sustainability Report published on 8 May.

 

What were some of your achievements in 2023 as far as water management is concerned?

We progressed the implementation of our De Beers Group-level Integrated Water Management Plan, which draws on the modelling of water-saving opportunities at all our operations in water-scarce areas. This provides the pathway to achieve the reduction of water withdrawals by 50 per cent by 2030.

·        Reduced freshwater withdrawals by 24 per cent at our active operations in water-scarce areas compared with the 2015 baseline.

·        Developed a holistic De Beers Group-level water stewardship strategy and began work on a more detailed strategy specific to Venetia mine, which will serve as a pilot for our other operations.

·        Continued to improve our performance against the Anglo American Water Management Standard.

At Orapa, Letlhakane and Damtshaa mines we commissioned an additional return water line to increase water reuse and progressed our investigative work on the use of evaporative covers. Trialling of evaporative covers is ongoing at Jwaneng mine, where we have also refined and automated a system to redirect effluent overflow from sewage plants in Jwaneng township to prevent overspills in the community and reduce our freshwater withdrawals.

We are already working with Angolan communities as part of our five-year Okavango Eternal partnership with National Geographic. Angola is the source of the mighty Okavango River, which flows through Namibia and into Botswana where it fans out into an inland delta – one of the biggest and most biodiverse wetlands on earth. The Okavango Delta is a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site, but the waters that feed it over the border in Angola and Namibia are not. With National Geographic, we are working to preserve these critical headwaters and the lives they support by empowering communities along the river, safeguarding wildlife corridors, researching water quality and supporting sustainable development. In many ways, Okavango Eternal is a microcosm of the entire Building Forever framework. The delta’s natural beauty is beyond measure. Yet it is only the end of a waterway that stretches some 1,000 miles. Our purpose is to make life brilliant along the whole river. And to do that we need to start at the source.

What are your plans for the year in terms of reducing your dependency on freshwater?

This year we will continue to implement our Integrated Water Management Plan, delivering projects to mitigate water risks and further reduce our dependency on freshwater:

·        Work towards developing site-specific water stewardship strategies for our operations in water-scarce regions.

·        Continue to investigate collaborative approaches and partnerships to contribute to healthy catchments and building resilience in water-stressed communities in areas where we operate.

How far have you gone with your vision of becoming carbon-neutral by 2030?

Since 2021, to support our commitment to our Building Forever Goal to be carbon neutral by 2030, we have been working with our rough diamond customers – Sightholders – to understand their environmental commitments and their journey towards carbon neutrality. With the help of the Carbon Trust, we have developed a set of tools that we require our Sightholders to complete. This includes specific questions within the BPP Workbook and a Carbon Footprint Template Questionnaire based on the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, the first of its kind within the diamond industry. To advance our work in this sphere in 2023, we made these tools a mandatory requirement, to be completed by all Sightholders as part of the BPP programme. Before this, the requirement had been voluntary. To support our Sightholders in implementing the change, we have been careful to consider their different journeys and diverse group structures. Therefore in 2023, we have focused on asking Sightholders to demonstrate their engagement on environmental commitments and in collecting and reporting their carbon emissions.

As expected, some Sightholders have found it difficult to fully comply, with only 38% completing both the Carbon Footprinting Questionnaire and the BPP Workbook questions.

·        Measuring emissions: 25% claimed to measure emissions annually while 22% said they were in the process of measuring emissions.

·        Climate and carbon commitments: 13% of our Sightholders stated they had SMART Carbon Neutral or Net Zero commitments while 14% said they were in the process of setting commitments.

·        Action plans: 10% reported having action plans in place and 12% were in the process of developing action plans.

What are you doing this year to ensure carbon reporting requirements are adhered to?

The carbon reporting requirements will remain mandatory for the 2024 BPP cycle. To support this, we have updated the BPP Workbook carbon and climate questions as well as the Carbon Footprint Template Questionnaire to provide clearer questions on what information needs to be provided based on feedback from Sightholders and the Carbon Trust. The changes are intended to support better response rates and consistency in the data reported.

To what extent have you started using solar and wind energy at your operations in southern Africa?

Wind and solar power hold great promise for southern Africa. However, to harness it, we need an enabling policy and regulatory environment conducive to building the associated infrastructure and local capacity. As part of our fossil fuel replacement strategy, we are pursuing three major renewable energy projects in southern Africa in collaboration with Envusa Energy, a new company jointly formed by Anglo American and EDF Renewables:

·        Envusa Energy is developing 520MW of wind and solar PV capacity in South Africa, of which Venetia mine has contracted to take 48MW. The Energy Offtake Agreement (EOA) terms were finalised at the end of 2023. Financial close is expected in early 2024. Renewable energy supply is expected to start in 2025.

·        A 50MW on-site PV power plant at Venetia mine. The pre-feasibility study was completed in 2023 and a feasibility study has begun which is due for completion by mid-2025. A pre-feasibility study is also underway for the associated backup battery energy storage system.

·        A 34MW wind farm at Namdeb’s land-based operations in Namibia. Regulatory challenges in Namibia have caused some delays on this project, but Namdeb continues to actively engage with the government, the national electric power utility company (Nampower) and other relevant parties. A feasibility study for the wind farm is in progress.

Together these projects, which will be financed by Envusa Energy, are expected to deliver more than 80 per cent of our electricity needs at the two sites, bringing us closer to reaching our 2030 carbon-neutral goal. We are engaging with the relevant government institutions to make sure our priorities are aligned. Envusa Energy’s work with De Beers Group is part of its larger endeavour to create a regional renewable energy ecosystem intended to meet Anglo American’s power needs in southern Africa while supporting the resilience of local electricity supply and bolstering wider decarbonisation efforts in the region. Meanwhile, in Botswana, Debswana is exploring renewable energy supply options. These will be developed in partnership with the Botswana Power Corporation (BPC) and/or by Independent Power Producers (IPPs). While the regulatory regime is challenging, good progress has been made in discussions with the Botswana Ministry of Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security (MMGE) and BPC. This resulted in Debswana and BPC signing a memorandum of understanding at the end of 2023, agreeing to collaborate on renewable energy supply for Debswana's diamond mines.

Since inception, we have completed 23 small-scale solar PV installations (rooftop and parking) at various sites across De Beers Group. These installations will generate 7,100MWh annually, reducing our annual emissions by more than 7,000t of CO2. In 2023, we also installed a 1,200kWh solar battery system to power our telecommunications tower at Kerbehuk Hill, on the Namibian coast. The radio mast, which serves as a key communication link to Debmarine’s vessels and helicopters, previously ran on a generator that required 20,000 litres of diesel a year to be transported from Oranjemund 60km away over multiple trips. The solar installation and its backup battery system have resulted in 54,208kg of CO2 of annual avoided carbon emissions – equivalent to a 139,000km journey in a typical petrol-powered car.

Can you provide an update on the Kelp Blue pilot study?

We continue to support Kelp Blue, an innovative start-up focused on growing and managing large-scale giant kelp forests off the coast of Namibia. Our US$2 million investment is accelerating research on the potential of these underwater forests to permanently lock away vast amounts of CO2, while also creating employment and upskilling opportunities. At December's COP28 UN climate summit in Dubai, Kelp Blue's work was recognised with the prestigious Zayed Sustainability Prize in the Climate Action category. By cultivating oceanic kelp, their nature-based solution sequesters 100,000 tonnes of CO2 annually and enhances ocean biodiversity, boosting Namibia’s ‘blue economy’.

What did you do last year as part of your objective to achieve a net-positive impact on biodiversity by 2030?

We progressed our biodiversity baseline assessments at all managed and joint-venture operations, a core component that informs our Biodiversity Management Programmes.

·        Donated an area of close to 86,000 acres to South African National Parks for its continued conservation.

·        Continued to support on-ground action in the second year of our five-year Okavango Eternal partnership with National Geographic, with the ultimate aim to help protect the source waters of the Okavango Delta.

·        Celebrated flourishing wildlife and community-led conservation impact at Zinave National Park, Mozambique, after our five-year Moving Giants elephant translocation programme.

We use the mitigation hierarchy to first avoid impacts on biodiversity and then seek to ensure we minimise any direct and indirect biodiversity impacts through planned and monitored mitigation measures. Following this, we commit to working to restore impacted biodiversity and ecosystems where we operate. Finally, and only after these steps are demonstrated, we seek to offset any remaining negative impacts through actions that leave a net-positive impact on biodiversity. We are guided by the Anglo American Biodiversity Standard, which reflects leading principles for biodiversity management. The Biodiversity Standard is aligned with the RJC requirements and is mapped against our BPP programme. We are also a member of the Business for Nature coalition and the Mining Association of Canada, which has developed the Towards Sustainable Mining protocols adhered to by several of our operations. We use the Anglo American Biodiversity Value Assessment to understand the significance of biodiversity and the ecosystems where we operate. This tool informs how we monitor our progress towards our commitments and examines the status of biodiversity and the pressures that threaten species, habitats and ecosystem processes. We consider the benefits that our businesses, communities and society receive from nature and the potential responses necessary for proactive effective biodiversity management.

As part of our commitment to leave a positive diamond legacy in our producer countries, in 2023 we pledged to donate land we own in a global biodiversity hotspot to South African National Parks. For the past 20 years, the tract of almost 86,000 acres on South Africa’s west coast has been part of our Diamond Route, the 500,000-acre network of conservation and heritage sites we own and manage around active and former mines across southern Africa. Since 2008, we have partnered with the conservation authority South African National Parks (SANParks), who have managed the area as an extension to the Namaqua National Park. This has proven highly successful in conserving the integrity of the entire national park and, in celebration of South African National Parks Week in September, we announced that we would donate the land to SANParks for the enduring shared benefit of South African citizens. It means this important area will continue to benefit from permanent protected status as an official asset of the state-owned South African National Park network.

What is your responsible mine closure policy?

As our mines approach closure, open dialogue with local communities becomes even more critical. Transparent communication about closure plans, environmental rehabilitation, and potential post-mine closure socio-economic impacts is essential. By involving the local community in planning for closure, we can support economic diversification, establish post-closure opportunities and leave a positive legacy that contributes to the long-term well-being of the community and environment. Given the timelines of our current mine closures, we have been able to apply this approach to Voorspoed mine, and have begun work to plan for the eventual closure of operational mines such as the Gahcho Kué mine in Northwest Territories (NWT) in Canada.

De Beers had been participating in the Anglo-American Group Elimination of Fatalities (EoF) programme. How is this programme helping you eliminate fatalities at your operations?

De Beers Group successfully participated in the Anglo American Elimination of Fatalities (EoF) programme. This aims to embed the necessary practices and standards into our work to improve safety performance and seek to eliminate the risk of fatalities. The EoF sustainability process identified 179 actions that were loaded onto the Group-wide operational management system, IsoMetrix. Closure of these will be tracked through 2024.

Mathew Nyaungwa, Editor in Chief of the African Bureau, Rough&Polished