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Any sustainable solution to destructive gold mining needs to come from all links of the gold supply chain. In this section, we summarize some of the major on-the-ground solutions to reduce the negative impacts of gold mining in the Amazon. However, it is important to keep in mind that it is not only miners and ASGM countries which are fueling crime or contaminating the environment. By buying jewelry and electronics that are irresponsibly sourced, companies and consumers from developed countries are subsidizing environmental, social, and legal abuses. The second part of this series will include downstream market solutions, which are equally if not more essential for change.

Photo by Ron Haviv

3.1 Minamata Convention on Mercury

The Minamata Convention on Mercury is a global treaty organized by UNEP to protect human health and the environment from the adverse effects of mercury. The major objectives of the Convention include “a ban on new mercury mines, the phase-out of existing ones, the phase out and phase down of mercury use in a number of products and processes, control measures on emissions to air and releases to land and water, and the regulation of the informal sector of artisanal and small-scale gold mining.”<sup>188</sup> Effective since 2017, 127 countries are currently party to the Convention, including all Amazon countries with the exception of Venezuela.

Under the Convention, countries with significant ASGM are obligated to create a National Action Plan (NAP) to reduce, and where feasible, eliminate the use of mercury.

Under the Convention, countries with significant ASGM are obligated to create a National Action Plan (NAP) to reduce, and where feasible, eliminate the use of mercury. NAPs typically include training in mercury-free or mercury-reducing mining techniques, steps to facilitate formalization, strategies to regulate the mercury trade, education in affected communities, public health strategies, and market-based incentive mechanisms. The Global Environmental Facility (GEF) is the financial instrument providing monetary support to countries participating in the Minamata Convention on Mercury and the development of NAPs.

Learn more:
MINAMATA Convention on Mercury
NAP Guidance for ASGM

3.2 Formalization

As we have seen, gold mining is a livelihood dominated by informality and illegality. As a result, it is very difficult for Amazon authorities to regulate the negative impacts of gold mining or collect taxes that can be distributed at the national and local level.

Formalization is the process of integrating illegal and informal miners into the formal economy and regulatory system. For countries party to the Minamata Convention, implementing a formalization strategy is an important part of the ASGM NAP. To be effective, formalization must encompass a wide variety of initiatives, including the incorporation of miners into the development of legal protocols, the monitoring and enforcement of the legislation, and sustained support necessary to help miners meet legal requirements.189 Some specific actions include the allocation of land for ASGM, assisting miners with self-organization, strengthening the supply chain, ensuring gender equality, managing conflicts with LSGM, and promoting economic coexistence with ASGM and LSGM, among others.190

Despite nominal efforts to formalize the artisanal sector, fewer than 1% of artisanal miners are formalized in South America.191 In many cases, miners may lack the technical know-how or the necessary capital to comply with formalization requirements. Even if the demands are feasible, the formalization process can be so complicated and time-consuming as to be daunting for artisanal miners. Therefore, it is crucial that governments make programs available to help miners navigate the complex bureaucratic and legal requirements.

Learn more:
UNEP Handbook: Developing National ASGM Formalization Strategies within National Action Plans
IGF Global Trends in Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining (ASM): A review of key numbers and issues (see section 7)

3.3 Monitoring and Community Education

Monitoring ASGM’s impacts on environmental and human health is a longstanding and important means of addressing the negative impacts of gold mining. Article 19 (“Research, Development, and Monitoring”) of the Minamata Convention emphasizes the need to conduct mercury studies in vulnerable populations while Article 22 (“Effectiveness Evaluation”) identifies health monitoring as an important way to evaluate the effectiveness of the Convention. Parties are also asked to share monitoring data with stakeholders and vulnerable populations, as well as to lead educational events on the dangers of mercury exposure (Article 18).192 The World Health Organization (WHO) has emphasized an urgent need to train local health-care providers, such as nurses, physicians, and community health workers, to recognize ASGM hazards to human health and the environment.193

One particularly important example in the Amazon region is monitoring and education programs relating to fish consumption. Researchers may conduct analyses of aquatic organisms to determine which species pose the greatest risks to human health and then use these results to guide dietary education programs. Such programs have seen success, but must be balanced with other considerations, such as cultural identity and dietary needs.194 Environmental and health monitoring can also be presented to miners as evidence of harmful practices. However, miners are often distrustful of these diagnoses, or are aware of the risks but lack economic alternatives. requirements.195

Learn more:
UNEP Global Review of Mercury Monitoring Networks
UNEP Estimating mercury use and documenting practices in artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM): Methods and Tools
A State-of-the-Science Review of Mercury Biomarkers in Human Populations Worldwide between 2000 and 2018

3.4 Improving Mining Techniques

One way to reduce mercury contamination and environmental degradation from ASGM is to train miners in more responsible mining practices. Annex C of the Minamata Convention recommends that governments begin by eliminating “Worst Practices” in ASGM, including whole-ore amalgamation, open-air burning of amalgams, burning of amalgams in residential areas, and cyanide leaching without prior mercury removal.

The most common means to reduce or eliminate mercury in ASGM is to introduce gravimetric mining methods, which work by using the high density of gold to remove lighter particles and increase gold concentration in the ore. Gravity methods include any combination of panning, sluicing, shaking tables, concentrators and centrifuges.196 Another way to reduce mercury releases is to provide miners and gold shop owners with retorts, which can condense and recover over 95% of mercury vapor during the amalgam burning process.197 However, even when a technique is more responsible and profitable, other factors may hinder miners’ adoption of new methods, including the socio-cultural context of the mining area, legal barriers, and support from local authorities or organizations.

There are also ways to reduce the burden of gold mining on the rainforest and climate. Geological knowledge of gold deposits can help miners minimize unnecessary deforestation and work more efficiently, as well as guide government decisions on the allocation of mining areas. Miners may also be required to conduct an environmental impact assessment (EIA) and/or environmental management plan (EMP) to identify and prevent environmental damage.198 An essential part of an EMP is mine closure. In tropical areas such as the Amazon, this may include reforestation and ecological restoration. However, for rehabilitation to be feasible, miners typically must be formalized (legal) as well as have access to substantial capital or external support, though efforts have been made to make rehabilitation more frugal.199

Learn more:
UNEP Illustrated Guide to Mercury Free Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining
EPA Guide to Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining Without Mercury
World Bank Report on Forest-Smart Mining: Artisanal & Small-Scale Mining in Forest Landscapes (ASM)

3.5 Designating Protected Areas and Indigenous Rights

On average, protected areas harbor less miners than do unprotected areas.200 As a result, effective forest protection, particularly the designation and strengthening of protected areas and indigenous territories, is a key means of reducing the negative impacts of illegal gold mining. At the same time, as we have seen, illegal mining affects numerous natural parks in the Amazon and about 6% of indigenous land directly overlaps with active mining concessions or illegal mining activities.201 One means of mitigating illegal incursions is to establish a multi-use protected areas, which enables mining in a regulated and controlled fashion. Regardless of the type of protected area, effective enforcement and good governance are crucial to mitigating destructive mining practices.202

Globally, indigenous-managed lands tend to coincide with critical ecosystems and harbor equal or greater biodiversity than conventional protected areas, in large measure due to successful environmental stewardship.203 204 It is important that indigenous groups are provided with adequate legal protections, which grant them their inherent rights and the capacity to effectively protect their land. According to the World Resources Institute, the legal rights most crucial to protecting indigenous communities against unwanted mining include land rights, which guarantee autonomous land management; the right of free, prior, and informed consent, which ensures indigenous groups are consulted and participate in development plans on their land; mineral rights, which provide greater control and benefits from any mineral developments; and the right of first refusal, which guarantees indigenous groups the opportunity to profit from resource development before a third party. In addition to the provision of rights, government and NGOs can help indigenous groups deter unwanted mining by building capacity in monitoring, negotiation, and legal literacy.205

Learn more:
Convention on Biological Diversity – Aichi Target 11
UN-REDD – Forest Governance
UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
WRI Undermining Rights: Indigenous Lands and Mining in the Amazon

3.6 Alternative and Diversified Livelihoods

Violence and coercion are rarely effective measures in reducing the ASGM sector or mitigating the negative impacts of destructive mining. If there are no economic alternatives, evidence suggests that miners will continue mining outside the legal framework and will even return to the protected area from which they were evicted.206

In order to sustainably reduce the environmental and human health burden of ASGM, some agencies advocate projects that offer alternative livelihoods and economic opportunities. In the Amazon, programs include shifting miners towards sustainable agriculture, such as cacao production,207 or the conversion of mining pools into profitable fish farms.208 While some initiatives, such as the GEF Small Grants Program, have seen success in introducing alternative livelihoods,209 critics point out that artisanal and small-scale miners provide an important global service, as well as a local means of income that can eventually diversify and strengthen marginalized communities.210 211 More recently, groups have championed “diversified livelihood” strategies, which complement mining with other sources of income, particularly agriculture.212

Learn more:
IGF Global Trends in Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining (ASM): A review of key numbers and issues (see section 5)
Pact and the University of Delaware’s Mapping Artisanal and Small-scale Mining to the Sustainable Development Goals (ASM-SDG Policy Assessment)
GIATOC Case Study: Illicit Gold Mining in Peru (shifting from mining to cacao)


188 UNEP, 2017
189 IGF, 2017
190 UNITAR & UNEP, 2018
191 Marshall and Veiga, 2017
192 Ibid
193 WHO, 2016
194 Basu et al, 2018
195 Veiga and Fadina, 2020
196 EPA, 2018
197 Veiga and Hinton, 2002
198 World Bank, 2019
199 Asia Foundation, 2016
200 World Bank, 2019
201 Vallejos et al., 2020
202 World Bank, 2019
203 Garnett et al., 2018
204 Schuster et al., 2019
205 Vallejos et al., 2020
206 World Bank, 2019
207 GIATOC, 2017
208 Otchere, 2004
209 UNDP, 2019
210 Siegel & Veiga, 2010
211 de Haan et al., 20209
212 IGF, 2017