Sibanye stresses importance of healthy wetlands

2nd February 2022 By: Schalk Burger - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

Precious and battery metals producer Sibanye-Stillwater acknowledges that wetlands are critical ecosystems that support its business, communities and ensure all are resilient to the impacts of climate change through greenhouse-gas emissions reduction, buffering the impacts of changes in the weather and supporting healthy ecosystems.

"We recognise the invaluable functions wetlands play in fostering a diverse biological mix of species, storing water, improving water quality through the biological and chemical processes that reduce nutrients, carbon and metals and providing critical resources such as water, food and textiles.

"For these reasons, we have embedded investing in our wetlands into our operational and strategic objectives of developing a climate change resilient business and entrenching long-term economic sustainability," Sibanye says in celebration of World Wetlands Day.

This year is the first year that World Wetlands Day is celebrated as an official United Nations international day, and marks the date of the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands on February 2, 1971.

Sibanye released its first Biological Diversity Procedure for all its sites in 2021. The procedure requires the application of the mitigation hierarchy, namely avoidance, mitigation, restoration or rehabilitation and offsetting, from feasibility to post-closure project phases.

"This means that we aim to avoid impacts to critical ecosystems, like wetlands. Thereafter, we execute on mitigation, restoration and offsetting to arrive at a state in biodiversity that has not deteriorated since we started management of the sites. In short, there should be no deterioration in water quality, wetlands and our ecosystems will continue to form an integral part of our carbon neutral journey.

"To achieve this, we execute on detailed option analyses that consider environmental, social, economic, health and safety factors to ensure the best practicable and sustainable option is executed to support our objectives of achieving no net loss in biodiversity resources. In this manner, we embed environmental, social and governance in the way we do business and become a force for good," the company says.

In 2021, Sibanye invested in detailed specialist studies to advise on avoidance of critical wetland areas, resulting in the redesign and repositioning of new infrastructure including pipelines, vent shafts, roads and tailing storage facilities.

"Further, where we do impact on our rich wetland systems, we investigate and continuously improve our mitigation measures. In 2021, plume interception boreholes, effective stormwater management, enhanced water treatment systems and secondary containment measures were implemented to prevent any material from entering sensitive areas. This resulted in an improvement in water quality supporting a range of uses," the company notes.

Sibanye considers restoration to be a continuous process that requires regular review and adaptation to ensure the best practicable and sustainable solutions are executed. These solutions must consider all environmental, social and economic conditions both in the present and in future.

"The option analyses embedded in our Biological Diversity Procedure are site- and situation-specific, with the end wetland condition to be improved from its baseline condition, namely the condition of the wetland before Sibanye-Stillwater took ownership, or the same as the pre-mining state, in the case of new developments."

Where human activities expand unsustainably, there is a visible, gradual decline in biodiversity with less pollinators to support crops, fewer songbirds in the skies, and polluted, stinking waters flowing through parks, Sibanye states.

"Only by working together can we manage our catchments successfully. Every small change adds up to a big difference to the ecosystems and the services they provide," the company states.