There is no denying that the diamond industry has played a crucial role in human evolution for decades now. From technological advancement to medicine, from housing to beauty products, diamond has proven continuously its applicability at every level of the society. However, this does not exempt the diamond industry from various criticisms, particularly over environmental degradation – soil erosion, deforestation and loss of natural habitats –, as the world increasingly feels the negative impacts of climate change. Furthermore, the developing world is home to numerous sites of diamond extraction that are found in Guyana, Brazil, Guinea, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Ghana, Democratic Republic of Congo and more countries. While diamond mining in the region has affected the lives of inhabitants and their habitats – for the most part negatively –, it becomes a concern not only for present and future environmental crises, but also for human and animal displacements. Thus, this leads to question whether diamond mining can create avenues for promoting sustainable ecosystems in the Global South. Undoubtedly, the diamond industry has shown interest for a sustainable economic transition; yet, an effective response to the above issue will require more effort in advancing responsible and effective collaboration among all stakeholders.
Diamond industry, Environment and Climate Change
Many experts seem to agree that mining activities – including diamond mining – are still conducive to environmental issues and climate change. Consultants from Imperial College London (2020) note that qualitative environmental impacts of diamond mining include effects on quality of water resources, effects on air quality – air pollution mostly caused by machinery and fossil fuels used in mining sites –, effects on soil quality, destruction of biodiversity – flora and fauna. As it is important to reiterate that Latin America and Africa host a wide variety of vegetation, animals, and indigenous communities. Such ecosystem is also the most vulnerable to the long-term effects of environmental degradations and of climate change at large. In this regard, there is a need to rethink the relationship between human and nature, with a keen attention on balancing resource management and environmental preservation in the developing world.
Responsible Initiatives in the Diamond Industry
It will be unfair to deny notable efforts, among others, by the diamond industry to improve human-environment relationship:
- De Beers Group’s ‘Building Forever’: A set of 12 ambitious goals to promote better human-nature coexistence in collaboration with partner communities by 2030, in alignment with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This includes, but is not limited to, improving education and skills, livelihoods, health, climate impact, water, biodiversity, gender equality.
- Rio Tinto’s ‘Three Pillars’ Strategy: A sustainability pledge aligning to the UN SDGs, aiming at ‘running a safe, responsible and profitable business’, ‘collaborating to enable long-term economic benefits’, and ‘pioneering materials essential for human progress’.
- Debswana’s ‘Environment, Community, Occupational Health and Safety (ECOHS) Programme’: A sustainability approach that aims to improve four disciples namely the environment, the people, health and safety measures.
While these are only few of multiple engagements of the diamond industry in a green economic transition, it is also worth noting that these are approaches to invite more conscious and responsible stakeholders to partake in the achievement of a sustainable future, especially for developing environment.
Key Policy Strategies to consider
It is clear that the Covid-19 pandemic has prompted the need to reevaluate human activities and how they interact with nature. However, its impact has affected negatively the entire diamond market’s value chain, causing a production loss of approximately 20% in the first half of 2020. Noting the importance of the diamond industry in our contemporary context, it also means that diamond inputs in vital sectors – whether it is medicine or technology that can solve global crises – are likely to diminish, as well as opportunities to contribute to sustainable development in vulnerable regions. Thus, it is imperative to consider adaptive approaches to foster effective partnerships among stakeholders, as to facilitate sustainability and profitability:
- All diamond stakeholders should be encouraged to promote actively ESG investment scheme. Beyond unilateral sustainable pledges, it is crucial to upgrade green initiatives to global standards by incorporating ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) focus in order to hold into accountable different stakeholders and constantly monitoring their impacts on environment, the livelihood of local communities and related corporate governance;
- Diamond companies must collaborate with partner countries and innovative international companies to support innovation in housing and energy usage for displaced low-income communities in developing regions. As diamond mining may imply risks of displacements and habitat destruction, it is necessary to relocate local communities into eco friendly houses, where they will have the ability to practice residential agriculture and use organic waste as a source of energy. Partnerships with companies such as CMAI Architects and HomeBiogas Ltd could bring such projects to life, as these businesses have a track record of experience in developing regions;
- Diamond companies and partner countries from the developing world should work to improve appropriate tax control mechanism, to allow more transparency and better accountability for environmental and human losses and damages. As this remains a concern particularly for many affected households, it is crucial to strive for better conditions to build sustainable trust among stakeholders and affected communities.