As Ghana weighs the economic benefits of mining bauxite for aluminum at the Atewa Range Forest Reserve, three global manufacturing companies – BMW Group, Tetra Pak and Schüco International – have signaled concern over the proposal.
According to them, mining will have catastrophic and irreversible effects on the people and wildlife that depend on the forest. More than five million Ghanaians depend on Atewa Forest as their source of clean drinking water.
“Saving Atewa Forest from mining should be an intergenerational priority, and we are happy and grateful that big businesses in the aluminium value chain understand the importance of a healthy forest and the environmental services it provides,” said Oteng Adjei, president of the Concerned Citizens of Atewa Landscape (CCAL), the grassroots movement advocating against bauxite mining in Atewa Forest and the recipient of letters from all three companies.
“We appreciate their commitment to supporting local and international efforts to secure Atewa Forest against bauxite mining that is certain to destroy the forest, its water services and biodiversity,” added Adjei.
BMW Group, Tetra Pak and Schüco International are all members of the Aluminium Stewardship Initiative (ASI), established to certify the production and supply of aluminium including bauxite extraction.
Schüco said: “Schüco would oblige our aluminium suppliers not to supply aluminium derived from bauxite mined in the Atewa Range Forest Reserve, and we intend to encourage other aluminium users to join us in this commitment.”
Tetra Pak stated: “Sourcing aluminium produced from bauxite mined in the Atewa Range Forest Reserve… presents a level of risk that is completely unacceptable to Tetra Pak. No matter how high the environmental standards that are applied, any form of mining at this site will have an unavoidable destructive impact on the values inherent in such a natural habitat.”
BMW Group submitted: “Bauxite from the region of the Atewa Forest needs to be in line with the Convention on Biological Diversity, the UNFCCC Paris Agreement on Climate Change and Ghana’s voluntary national contributions towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals. If this is not the case the BMW Group will not accept aluminium in its supply chains that originates bauxite from the Atewa Forest.”
Campaigners to protect Atewa Forest have repeatedly insisted that purchasing bauxite mined from the Atewa Forest would not meet ASI’s standards and that bauxite mining in Atewa would threaten species with global extinction, undermining the Convention on Biodiversity and the Sustainable Development Goals, both of which set clear targets to stop extinctions.
While the companies recognie the government of Ghana’s desire to develop the aluminium sector for economic development and poverty reduction, their letters make clear their commitments to sustainability. All three companies want their suppliers and sub-suppliers to meet their same social and environmental standards.
If bauxite from Atewa becomes part of Ghana’s aluminium supply, the Ghana Integrated Aluminium Development Corporation (GIADEsC) risks outright rejection of all Ghana’s bauxite and aluminium by aluminium users such as these.
In late 2016, the Ghanaian government reportedly initiated plans to mine bauxite found beneath Atewa Forest as part of a financial deal with China. Extracting bauxite in Atewa would require “strip mining” where the whole surface layer of soil is removed, according to scientists, saying that this means a total loss of the forest in the mined areas, along with all the biodiversity it contains.
In 2019, bulldozers started to clear trees and create access roads in Atewa Forest, even after several international groups, led by A Rocha, and local groups, now led by CCAL, had spent years urging the government to protect Atewa Forest in perpetuity by converting it into a national park.
Unlike Ghana’s existing bauxite mine at Awaso, which locals describe as a “desert of red mud”, Atewa Forest is said to be teeming with life, home to at least 50 mammal species, more than 1,000 species of plants, at least 230 species of birds and more than 570 butterflies – including species found nowhere else in the world.
Atewa is described as a Key Biodiversity Area, a site of global importance to the persistence of biodiversity and to the planet’s overall health. In a recent book, acclaimed biologist and author Professor E.O. Wilson lists Atewa Forest as one of the 38 most important places on Earth that should be set aside for nature’s benefit.
“Atewa’s incredible biodiversity and the ecosystem services it provides are priceless, and the local communities have been very vocal in their wish to protect this place from destruction,” said Daryl Bosu of A Rocha Ghana. “By trying to extract short-term monetary gain from the forest, the government is actually driving companies away from doing business with Ghana. It is time to invest in Atewa’s long-term protection, not only for the benefit of Ghanaians, but to the benefit of all life on Earth, which depends on our forests to help fight the climate crisis and prevent pandemics.”
In 2016, A Rocha and partnerspublished a report that showed that protecting Atewa Forest as a national park and a buffer area around it – rather than mining it for bauxite – actually had the highest economic value for the country over 25 years, with tremendous benefits to communities both upstream and down.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) passed a resolution in November of 2020 demanding global action to save Atewa from bauxite mining, joining the international call to protect the forest. In addition to providing clean water to the communities around it, Atewa Forest is said to be home to the endangered white-naped mangabey; the critically endangered togo slippery frog, and the critically endangered Afia Birago puddle frog, which was discovered in 2017.
“Major multinationals listening to the voices of communities and publicly throwing their economic weight behind the campaign to protect Atewa Forest is a very welcome step because tackling nature loss is everyone’s business,” said Alice Ruhweza, WWF Africa Region Director. “Hopefully, more companies will quickly follow suit, helping to safeguard Atewa and sending a clear message that parts of our natural world are too priceless to be destroyed for short term profit.”
“Ensuring that our consumption nurtures nature rather than destroying and depleting it is a critical step for which we must all take responsibility. We salute these companies for setting the standard to help save the Atewa Forest,” said Patricia Zurita, BirdLife International CEO.