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De Beers steps up efforts to deliver net positive impact on biodiversity by 2030

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david_johnson_xxn.pngAnglo American’s 85%-owned De Beers Group, which has operations across the diamond pipeline from exploration to retail, wants to protect the environment.

Group spokesperson David Johnson told Mathew Nyaungwa’s Rough&Polished in an exclusive interview that De Beers has the potential to play a major role in creating solutions and encouraging best practices across their supply chain.

He said the group is actively managing biodiversity and protecting threatened species across approximately 500,000 hectares of protected land in southern Africa, reintroduced buffalo to its Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve and partnered with the National Geographic to help protect the critical source waters of the Okavango Delta in southern Africa.

De Beers also invested $2 million in the innovative start-up company Kelp Blue to fund a pilot project planting a giant underwater kelp forest, initially off the coast of Namibia.

This should help lock away carbon dioxide.

Meanwhile, Johnson said De Beers’ Environmental Policy and Lifecycle Planning and Management Standard require all of its operations to have detailed and adequately funded, closure plans in place.

He said they also review their safety risks regularly as part of their Operational Risk Management process and their safety performance is constantly under review.

Below are excerpts from the interview.

How concerned are you about biodiversity?

Biodiversity is a core focus area for De Beers Group. One of our 12 Building Forever sustainability goals for 2030 is to deliver a net positive impact on biodiversity. In recovering diamonds, we both depend on and have an impact on the natural world. We want to help protect nature and its awe-inspiring creations, which is why we have committed to demonstrating our progress towards delivering a net positive impact on biodiversity by 2030.

Which programmes did you put in place to conserve the environment?

Key progress in 2021 in this area included:

- Launched Okavango Eternal – our five-year partnership with National Geographic to help protect the critical source waters of the Okavango Delta in southern Africa

- An additional eight post-graduate students are being supported through the partnership, conducting research in Botswana, Namibia and Angola.

- Continued to actively manage biodiversity and protect threatened species across approximately 500,000 hectares of protected land in southern Africa (known as the Diamond Route)

- Reintroduced buffalo to our Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve, a keystone species that improve habitat for other grazing species

What are you doing to be carbon neutral across your operations?

Climate change is the critical challenge facing all of us. There are growing expectations from consumers, brands and wider society for faster, deeper action and tangible results. There is also a realisation that everyone needs to play their part in navigating to a net zero world.

At De Beers Group, we recognise that sharing this responsibility is the right thing to do – both for the future of the planet and the long-term sustainability of our business. We also recognise that as a global business operating across the pipeline from exploration to retail, we have the potential to play a major role in creating solutions and encouraging best practices across our supply chain.

We are focused on a ‘three Rs’ strategy for achieving carbon neutrality across our business: 

- Reduce energy intensity – this will see us capturing efficiencies and using breakthrough technologies and digitalisation to change the way we mine, making it more effective, efficient and sustainable, in line with the FutureSmart Mining™ programme being implemented across Anglo American.

- Replace fossil fuels and fossil fuel electricity – we'll replace the fuels used in our trucks and vessels with green alternative fuels and will replace nearly all fossil-fuelled electricity by developing dedicated wind and solar power plants. We're already using solar energy at some of our operations in India and the UK, and our operating countries in southern Africa are ideally located to maximise these renewable sources of energy, so we'll be partnering with the government and other partners to make this ambition a reality.

- Remove all remaining carbon emissions through innovative nature-based and technical solutions.

Becoming carbon-neutral is a significant ambition for De Beers Group. Not only do we have one of the earliest timeframes of any mining company in 2030, but this timeline is also made even more ambitious by the complexity involved in developing new sources of renewable energy in countries where such infrastructure doesn't currently exist. For us, we need to develop this infrastructure ourselves or work with partners to facilitate the development. In doing so, we are not only making progress towards our commitment to being carbon neutral by 2030, but we are also creating investment growth, jobs and co-benefits for the communities located near our operations as we support our host countries in the transition to a lower carbon future.

Progress since the launch of our goal includes:


- In 2021, we reduced our energy intensity by 11% through carbon reduction efforts.

- We are developing a ~60MW solar farm at our Venetia mine in South Africa and are actively exploring the establishment of a wind farm in Namibia. A number of other wind and solar energy projects, including in Botswana, are currently in the planning stages.

- Six of our sites in the UK and India have solar panels

- We’ve purchased renewable energy for our retail operations in the UK and US

- We’re collaborating with Anglo American to investigate the potential to use hydrogen-fueled trucks at suitable mines by trialling them at Jwaneng mine.


- We’ve invested US$2 million in the innovative start-up company Kelp Blue to fund a pilot project planting a giant underwater kelp forest, initially off the coast of Namibia. The cultivation of this large seaweed presents a pioneering nature-based solution to tackle climate change, as research shows kelp forests boost ocean health and can sequester CO2 at rates that far exceed terrestrial woodlands.

- We have worked with the Carbon Trust to develop a detailed strategy to reduce 'Scope 3' emissions from our supply chain and are in the process of engaging with our supply chain partners to progress this strategy, building on the detailed planning already completed.

- We also intend to set Science Based Targets (SBTi) for our Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions.

You invested $2 million in the Kelp Blue, a pioneering underwater solution to lock away carbon dioxide. How far have you gone with this initiative?

We have invested US$2 million in the innovative start-up company Kelp Blue to fund a pilot project planting a giant underwater kelp forest, initially off the coast of Namibia. The cultivation of this large seaweed presents a pioneering nature-based solution to tackle climate change, as research shows kelp forests boost ocean health and can sequester CO2 at rates that far exceed terrestrial woodlands.

While our main focus for achieving carbon neutrality is on reducing and replacing fossil fuels across our business, potential carbon credits generated from our investment in Kelp Blue will help remove remaining hard-to-abate emissions from our operations.

Part of the investment will fund the development of an accredited methodology to calculate the carbon sequestration capability of kelp. In return, if successful, De Beers Group will have the rights to the carbon credits generated as a result of Kelp Blue’s work in this initial phase. In addition, we will have rights to preferential access to carbon credits generated in future phases of work.

Kelp is one of the fastest-growing organisms on Earth and also an amazingly efficient carbon sink, locking away CO2 permanently. Research has shown that Kelp also helps sustain healthy marine ecosystems, by providing food and shelter for many species.

As well as supporting this pioneering nature-based solution for sequestering carbon, our investment will help develop skills and create jobs in Namibia, so benefiting our Livelihoods and Skills and Education goals.

This is an exciting project. However, it is in its early stages, so we look forward to seeing the results of the pilot. 

How far have you gone with your CarbonVault™ programme, which is a pioneering research programme to capture and store carbon?

Work on our innovative CarbonVault™ project investigating the potential of kimberlite rock to sequester carbon, in collaboration with a group of Canadian and Australian universities, continued in 2021, but was hindered by Covid-19 preventing trials on site. Research programmes in 2021, therefore, focused on the analysis of samples collected from field-trial experiments initiated in Q1 2020 using processed kimberlite from Venetia. These experiments were developed to test physical, chemical, and biological mineral carbonation enhancement technologies. Preliminary results show evidence for effective carbon sequestration occurring over the duration of the experiments. Plans for a large-scale flue gas injection experiment using processed kimberlite from Gahcho Kué are currently on hold until researchers gain a better understanding of the processed kimberlite's reactivity.

What are you doing to rehabilitate disused mining areas?

Everywhere De Beers Group operates, we want to leave a positive lasting legacy, both in terms of the environment and a sustainable future for local communities. We know that the impact of mine closure can be felt at many levels – from reduced government income from royalties and taxes to jobs and income lost in local communities. That is why we start planning for eventual mine closure before a mine even opens.

Our Environmental Policy and Lifecycle Planning and Management Standard require all De Beers Group operations to have detailed and adequately funded, closure plans in place. Our lifecycle planning adopts the 'mitigation hierarchy' approach at every stage – we first aim to avoid, then to minimise, and finally to rehabilitate the environmental impact of our mining activities. Closure plans are refined over the life of an operation and become increasingly detailed as the mine reaches its final years of production. The De Beers Group Asset Retirement Department develop all closure plans in accordance with the Anglo American Mine Closure Toolbox.

With three of our mines at various stages of closure – Victor and Snap Lake mines in Canada, and Voorspoed mine in South Africa – we are currently reviewing our approach and asking ourselves: “How can we create more value for all stakeholders by embracing a collaborative closure design process that looks at broader needs and opportunities?”

Stakeholder engagement and participation are an important part of our closure planning process and we ensure that all local stakeholders can raise concerns and potential impacts or opportunities from the outset. Where necessary, we engage with community members in their own language via translators, and we provide multilingual documentation and visual media to ensure effective communication.

In 2020, we launched our Reimagining Asset Retirement initiative in partnership with Diavik, another mine operator in Canada's Northwest Territories. The project seeks to engage stakeholders in a collaborative process to explore innovative ways that mine closure can benefit current and future socio-economic development. We want to look 'beyond the fence line' of the operation and at the surrounding region, working with stakeholders to find alignment on opportunities. Through our working groups, we hope to share lessons learned in closure experiences, establish our BPP programme, understand labour trends, and work together to create a positive lasting legacy in the Northwest Territories.

In 2021, initial interest holder engagement began with a diverse group of interest holders and governments that included First Nation governments and communities, northern and Indigenous industry participants, Yellowknife, territorial and federal governments, and mining companies. Already, we have discussed between 40 and 50 ideas to transition land to post-mining uses and opportunities for other industry spin-offs. And we are working to introduce a 'cradle to cradle' perspective to mine closure, focusing on the future after mining activities cease. The end of mining can be seen as an opportunity for new initiatives to take place. Examples of creating positive social impacts from new activities after mining include the Big Hole tourism village in downtown Kimberley and the valuable breeding work done by De Beers Group's Ecology Division on farms adjacent to active and closed De Beers Group mines.

Short summaries of progress with rehabilitation work at the operations in the closure process are as follows:

Voorspoed mine – Kroonstad, South Africa

- We ceased production at our Voorspoed mine, located near Kroonstad in South Africa, in December 2018. We have since undertaken detailed engineering design work to develop a sustainable closure plan that rehabilitates our mining and support infrastructure in an environmentally responsible way. Rehabilitation work on the mine-waste rock dump, which includes reshaping to final angles, and application of topsoil and seed mixes, is now complete. Across the mine site, 207 out of 501 hectares of disturbed mine footprint have been rehabilitated.

- We continue to develop the pit lake option as proposed in the Voorspoed Diamond Mine Environmental Authorization (EA) application and are currently assessing the possibility of a floating wetlands bird sanctuary. This solution would limit evapotranspiration, provide habitats for wildlife and improve water quality. Other post-closure land uses for the pit lake are also being investigated.

Snap Lake mine – Northwest Territories, Canada

- Snap Lake mine ceased production in December 2015, and the site remained in an extended care and maintenance phase until early 2022. We have completed the mine closure design feasibility study. The final closure and reclamation plans were presented to the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board (MVLWB) in September 2020, after the earlier approval by the MVLWB of the water licence for closure in May 2020. Interim approval for the Final Closure and Reclamation Plan (FCRP) was issued in October 2021.

- A prime contractor has been appointed to execute the closure project, and an owner's oversight team and a project management office have been established. The mine is now on the path to full closure execution with one of our IBA partners as a member of the joint venture providing the services as prime contractor for these works. In 2022, we expect to hand over the site to the prime contractor, commence the demolition and remediation of the site and receive full approval from the FCRP.

Victor mine – Northern Ontario, Canada

- Although Victor mine ceased production in May 2019, progressive rehabilitation has been taking place at the mine since 2015. Rehabilitation progress has been steady, and by the end of 2021, just over 40 per cent of the total vegetation site coverage target had been met. A prime contractor was appointed in late 2020 and has been managing the Victor closure activities at Victor since January 2021.

- Winter road preparations for the 2022 season have progressed well and should see another successful partnership established with the James Bay coastal First Nation communities for the building of the winter road. A profit-sharing partnership between the Attawapiskat First Nation and an Ontario demolition company, facilitated by De Beers Group, is planning the removal of demolition scrap metal from the site in 2022, with the aim of transporting it to market for resale.

- In addition to meeting all our existing commitments, we continue to work closely with local authorities and Chief and Councils of local Indigenous communities to identify meaningful socio-economic development legacy projects.

What is your safety record so far this year compared to the same period in 2021?

We report our safety data externally on an annual basis, but we have continued to deliver robust safety performance in 2022 so far.

Which measures have you put in place to minimise injuries of employees at work?

Firstly, safety is our number one corporate value. We consider all risks to people and the environment before proceeding with any activity. We address risks before beginning any activity, even if this means stopping a task. Zero harm is always our goal.

Our approach to safety is guided by the Anglo American SHE (Safety, Health, Environment) Way and our Pioneering Brilliant Safety framework, adopted in 2020. The former sets out our systematic approach to managing SHE-related risks and opportunities and how this integrates with our business processes.

We also have a group sustainability policy and standards, and guidelines that set the foundations for safety excellence, leadership and behaviour across De Beers Group. Our cross-company Safety Working Group meets monthly to share best practices and reflect on learnings. A separate Elimination of Fatalities (EoF) working group has also been established to optimize the implementation of the EoF workstreams. To oversee this work, our Operational Transformation Steering Committee also meets monthly and is attended by general managers and other senior leaders.

In addition, we hold a bi-annual CEO Safety Summit for all De Beers Group companies, hosted by our Group CEO, Bruce Cleaver.

We review our safety risks regularly as part of our Operational Risk Management process and our approach and safety performance are constantly under review. We use leading indicators to proactively identify hazards and develop risks. Our main safety risks are:

- Transportation – Surface Mobile Equipment (SME) and Light Vehicles and Buses (LV&B)

- Energy isolation – Inadvertent contact with or exposure to a live source of electrical energy

- Fire risk management – Uncontrolled ignition

- Open pit slope – Rockfall (surface) and slope instability failure

- Residue storage facilities – Instability and failure of storage facilities. 

We are also mindful of our responsibility to promote safety throughout the diamond value chain. We engage actively at all levels of our supply chain to share best practices and encourage responsible behaviour at every stage.

Pioneering brilliant safety

The concepts of our group-safety framework have become embedded throughout the organisation, and there is much greater awareness of safety and everyone’s role in keeping themselves and their colleagues safe. Safety control is a human act, not the responsibility of a system or an engineered control, and we want our people to see themselves as the strongest link in ensuring the safety of our workplaces, homes and communities.

In 2021, we worked to embed our new group-safety framework through our Pioneering Brilliant Safety approach, which is designed to move us beyond zero harm to a culture where our people are ready to respond dynamically changing risks. Safety will be inherent in all that we do.

This journey is guided by our Pioneering Brilliant Safety framework across the 4Cs:

- Culture of leadership in our people

- Competence of all our people

- Cultivate value in and by our people

- Connectedness of our people and systems.

The Pioneering Brilliant Safety approach is already being implemented to guide decision-making in key projects. For example, the approach will steer the strategic plan for the extension of the land-based operations in Namibia, while the Venetia mine will transform from an open pit mine to an underground mine based on the principles of Pioneering Brilliant Safety. The approach was also showcased by Debmarine Namibia in its award-winning entry for the Albert Milton Safety Leadership Award for 2020. We use Debmarine Namibia to showcase a Safety Maturity Journey and continue to pilot new initiatives there.

Going beyond zero

An important aspect of our safety approach is to drive Beyond Zero harm. We want to create an open and safe environment for our people to report hazards and incidents. Our Beyond Zero approach touches approximately 20,000 people (employees and contractors) – going beyond the workplace, making safety inherent in our way of life – taking it into homes and communities. In just one example, when workers at one site invited their families into the mine to see where they worked, a husband was struck by the sheer size of the trucks his wife drove every day, giving him a new insight into her tiredness and need for his support at home.

Preventing accidents by identifying hazards

Our people have responded admirably to their responsibility for ensuring safety. This is clear in the significant level of high potential hazards that are reported through our risk reporting process. In 2021, more than 900 hazards were identified and addressed. A new SafeSENTRY programme is currently being piloted at Debmarine Namibia and Namdeb and is planned for roll-out at Venetia in 2022. The programme enlists front-line workers to take responsibility for hunting and identifying risks in their workplace.

By recognising that risks are not static and that the people closest to the work are best placed to identify risks as they emerge, the SafeSENTRY programme embeds dynamic risk management into everyday routines and ownership of fatal risk identification at the frontline. The approach is proving hugely successful and has uncovered risks that might previously have been overlooked. For example, a risk identified in the driving of light vehicles and buses has led to the implementation of advanced driver assistance systems in vehicles.

Elimination of fatalities

In 2021 De Beers Group continued to participate in the Anglo American Group Elimination of Fatalities (EoF) programme. This aims to eliminate fatalities at all group operations. During the 2021 year, 12 workstreams were driven through to completion. The remaining five workstreams will be completed during 2022.

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