Environmental

We strive to minimise our environmental impact in line with our earnest commitment to responsible environmental stewardship. Furthermore, we continue to deepen our understanding of the risks presented by climate change and develop appropriate response plans.

Related sustainability principles

  • Improving resource use efficiencies
  • Prioritising environmental protection
  • Increasing community benefit

A snapshot of our performance

  • Zero major environmental incidents for the 12th consecutive year
  • Zero significant environmental incidents for the 7th consecutive year
  • US$0.5 million invested in environmental protection during 2020 (2019:
    US$0.7 million)
  • US$16.1 million environmental rehabilitation provision
    (2019:
    US$18.7 million)
  • No fines for environmental transgressions or
    non-compliance with host country legislation for the 11th consecutive year
  • Dam safety management framework implemented
  • Annual social and environmental management plan (SEMP) audit programme implemented
  • ISO 14001 accreditation retained
  • Rehabilitation and closure management strategy adopted and updated
  • Climate change adaptation plan adopted

Related UN SDGs

We launched the first rolling three-year cycle to embed the SDGs into our systems, processes, and decision-making during the year. We have committed to the following six goals:



For more information on our approach to integrating these six SDGs into our business operations, please see our UN SDG framework (working towards global goals).

Our challenges

  • Our immediate climate-related challenge at Letšeng remains effective water management, crucial for our business's viability; and
  • The remote locations of our mines, the limited formal waste disposal facilities within our host countries, and closed borders during COVID-19 lockdown have challenged us to rethink the way we approach waste management.

Our future

We remain committed to environmental responsibility; to the rigorous and ongoing monitoring of our water management; to reducing our environmental footprint, and in our commitment to the SDGs.

We intend to participate in the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) in 2021. The TCFD is a voluntary disclosure platform that assists with guidance regarding consistent climate-related finance disclosure. Climate change is one of the most significant risks faced by organisations today, and its short and long-term impacts are often misunderstood and therefore not adequately disclosed. We met many challenges relating to climate change in 2020, for example the regional drought. We understand the importance of making adequate climate change-related financial disclosure and aim to include this information in our financial year reporting from now on.

We have initiated a gap analysis of our Tailings Storage Facility (TSF) management processes against the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management, recently launched in August 2020.

Material issues

Managing our environmental footprints

Our context

To pursue financial growth at the expense of the environment is unsustainable – we, therefore, strive to manage our environmental impacts responsibly, measuring, monitoring and minimising our consumption; by considering our water-and-carbon footprints, as well as how we manage waste, impacts our value chain. We recognise that natural resources like water, air, biodiversity and land are central to our business, and therefore, we use them with the utmost respect and responsibly.

Water footprint

We are heavily reliant on water in our operations. Currently, we collect rainwater in water storage facilities such as dams; however, due to the ongoing drought in Lesotho and consequent low rainfall over the past three years, our dam levels were very low in 2020. We are mindful of the fragile relationship between the mine and our PACs, especially regarding access to quality water, food security and stakeholder relationships. We know that we cannot secure water resources for our mine without securing water for our PACs.

Carbon footprint

To protect global climate stability going forward, we must prevent further greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Our goal is to reduce and at a minimum stabilise our GHG emissions to avoid any dangerous anthropogenic interference to our climate system. Considering the extreme weather events already experienced in our locations; we wish to prevent further climate disturbance.

Waste management

We understand that responsible waste management plays a significant role, not only in the sustainability of our business but also in our planet's long-term viability. Most of the waste generated by our operation is waste rock and residues from our production processes. We ensure the responsible management of our mineral wastes and implement systems to responsibly manage and dispose of all our non-mineral wastes.

Our approach

Water footprint

We actively minimise freshwater use by recycling and reusing water on-site, recovering run-off water, creating additional drainage channels, and economising our water usage. We focused on our stormwater management system and enhanced the existing engineering mechanisms to catch and redirect stormwater drainage into our freshwater dam. We continue to explore opportunities for additional catchment and freshwater supply for the operation and its PACs.

Nitrates come from the explosives used during the mining process. In the rainy season nitrate levels are low due to dilution, however, nitrate levels tend to increase during dry conditions. We constructed a water catchment facility below our Patiseng TSF to capture run-off from the facility for reprocessing, thereby preventing nitrates from entering the natural environment and advancing water recycling efforts in the processing plants. We have also created a human-made wetland in our Qa Qa catchment. Endemic plants have been propagated to help absorb nitrates and purify any water runoff during the summer months, as the wetland is frozen during the winter months. Naturally occurring floating wetlands assists in reducing nitrate concentrations in the RTZ catchment. The Group has successfully completed its bioremediation feasibility study and will be engaging with subject matter experts to draft a detailed design. The bioremediation process utilises naturally occurring microbes within the soil to absorb the nitrates from the water.

Carbon footprint

Our carbon footprint is monitored and measured to develop and implement initiatives to mitigate our environmental impact. We measure the tonnes of carbon dioxide (tCO2e) emitted per employee and per carat recovered, to consider our impact in isolation from our operation size.

Waste management

Waste management and the responsible disposal of waste is an important focus area. We continually seek ways to improve our waste reduction efforts, to minimise our impact on the natural environment and surrounding communities. Both mining operations have waste management plans in place to ensure that effective waste handling mechanisms are enforced. Mineral waste at Letšeng is retained on-site in structures designed for this purpose. These structures are operated in compliance with Lesotho's requirements, as well as international best practice standards. Waste generated by our non-mining operations remains limited to small quantities of domestic waste.

Our performance

Water footprint

In 2020 the total water withdrawal for the Group was 5 213 064m3, an 8% decrease in the volume used in 2019 of 5 635 805m3. The key factor in the decreased water consumption for the Group was reduced activities at Letšeng due to COVID-19-related restrictions. In 2020, the total water footprint for the Group was 45m3/carat (2019: 40m3/carat) and 1.18m3 per ore tonne treated (2019: 1.19m3 per ore tonne treated). The changes were directly related to the decrease in tonnes treated and carats recovered in 2020. For more information read ensuring long-term environmental well-being case study.

Carbon footprint

In 2020, the total carbon footprint for the Group was 140 040 tCO2e (compared to 172 968 tCO2e in 2019), primarily driven by electricity consumption and mobile and stationary fuel combustion. This figure includes the direct GHG emissions (Scope 1), energy-indirect GHG (Scope 2) emissions, and material Scope 3 emissions. It was calculated in accordance with the parameters defined by the GHG Protocol Corporate Accounting and Reporting Standard. The total carbon footprint for Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions combined was 117 443 tCO2e, compared to 143 229 tCO2e in 2019. Less than one percent of the Group's total CO2 emissions resulted from its UK-based operations. The total Group footprint signifies a 19% decrease from 2019, and an 18% decrease for Scope 1 and 2, on which the intensity reporting is based. The observed decrease is the result of a decrease in the use of diesel in both mobile and stationary activities at Letšeng mine, attributable to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns. Intensity reporting is required to demonstrate the Group's carbon efficiency performance. Therefore, the Group tracks tonnes of CO2e emitted per employee and per carat recovered. The tonnes of CO2e per employee decreased from 87.1 tonnes of CO2e per employee in 2019 to 71.3 tonnes of CO2e per employee in 2020. This was mainly due to an increase in the number of employees and reduced activity throughout the year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and associated restrictions. The ratio for tonnes of CO2e per carat decreased to 1.34 in 2020, compared to 1.52 in 2019. This represents a 12% decrease, attributable to fewer carats mined and lower scope 1 emissions and 2 emissions at Letšeng mine.

Waste management

  • Waste management campaigns continued at both operations.

Our context

Climate is an important component of operating in extreme environments because significant climatic hazards can negatively affect operations and could potentially endanger workforce and PAC safety. Our operations are located in extreme areas, which makes us susceptible to extreme weather events. Increased and/or extreme climatic events can be symptomatic of climate change; therefore, any fluctuations in temperature associated with climate change could have severe repercussions on our operating conditions. Extreme weather events include snowstorms, extreme temperatures, flash flooding and drought. Many of the root causes of climate change have also been linked to increased prevalence of diseases.

Our Letšeng mine is located high in Lesotho's Maluti mountains, in an area that experiences frequent extreme weather conditions, including blizzards, extreme cold and snow. The immediate climate-related challenge at Letšeng remains water management due to the three-year-long drought plaguing the area. Ghaghoo mine is located on Botswana's Kalahari Game Reserve, which experiences extreme year-round heat, with the occasional flash flood.

We are cognisant of the risks presented by climate change and its potential impact on our operations; we therefore seek efficient ways to minimise our emissions and reduce our operations' environmental impact. Our business continuity plans also work to mitigate the effects of these extreme weather events to prevent unnecessary risks for our people and operating environments.

Our approach

Climate change is a disrupter that can potentially suspend mining, interrupt transport schedules and disturb our rehabilitation efforts. We have adopted a climate change adaptation plan that considers the Paris Agreement, a UN treaty under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The goal of this plan is to reduce our environmental impact – achieved by reducing our greenhouse gas emissions; identifying carbon-neutral energy solutions; outlining the responsible management and efficient use of resources so as not to impact production; and defines the long-term use of the land to ensure that resources are used responsibly and sustainably so that the land can be restored, mitigating any environmental impacts from our mining activities.

Should an extreme weather event occur, like a snowstorm that prevents access to Letšeng mine or disrupts our energy supply, we have generators to provide power during such energy interruptions, with a two-week supply of diesel stored on the mine. A two-week supply of food is also maintained should the mine be snowed in. Our medical teams are equipped to deal with extreme weather conditions and have received extensive training for high-altitude rescues and medical treatment under extreme conditions.

Our water management systems also consider potential natural events. At both mines, dam and storage facilities are managed so that there is excess capacity to handle a sudden influx of water without compromising the structures' safety. Lesotho's severe drought, which continued in 2020, has reinforced the real impacts of climate change on the region – water-saving, recycling, and catchment initiatives have been implemented to preserve water and ensure it is treated as a precious resource at all times.

Our performance

  • Climate change adaptation plan adopted; and
  • Stormwater management and catchment plan updated.

Our context

Electricity is a crucial resource needed in our daily operations. The use of inefficient fossil fuels is not sustainable – we must reduce our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to stabilise climate change. As a business we have extensively explored clean energy solutions; unfortunately, Letšeng's extreme location and extremely low temperatures prevent the use of solar panels (they freeze and break during winter months), and the use of wind turbines is not possible because a colony of endangered vultures reside close to the mine. Therefore, we seek ways to reduce our consumption and improve electricity efficiencies and keep abreast of potential clean energy opportunities to implement.

Our approach

Improving energy efficiency is a critical focus area of our BT and CI plans. By reducing consumption, we can preserve cash flow and reduce our environmental footprint. To ensure the accurate and efficient monitoring of energy usage, we have appointed a facilities manager to oversee our operations' energy management. Letšeng has implemented an ISO 50001 energy management system, which provides us with a structured framework to manage and protect our energy supply, to track and minimise our consumption, and to help us monitor our CO2 and GHG emissions.

At Letšeng, we have implemented several initiatives, such as steepening the slope of the pit walls to reduce the amount of waste needing to be moved. By optimising our travelling routes, we shortened minimum travelling distances, thereby saving fuel consumption. We have explored various renewable energy projects at Letšeng, however, due to our extremely mountainous landscape and temperature extremes wind turbines and solar power stations have not proved feasible to date.

Frequent load shedding has increased the use of generators at Letšeng. These energy interruptions are potentially dangerous and costly, as machinery needs to be shut down safely and not mid-use. Restarting machinery also consumes more power and can potentially damage equipment too. Power interruptions are thus regarded as a risk to our operations. To mitigate risk, we ensure that load shedding schedules are integrated into our production planning to facilitate a smooth change-over to generator power.

At Ghaghoo, energy usage reduced since the operation was placed under care and maintenance in 2017 and was further reduced in 2020 following the termination of our underground dewatering activities. One generator remains in use for essential services, along with a back-up generator, when needed.

Our performance

The Group-wide energy consumption (for Scope 1 and 2 activities) in 2020 was 336 814 167kWh, compared to 382 740 833kWh in 2019. This represents a decrease in energy consumption of 12% from 2019 to 2020, owing to decreased use of diesel at the Letšeng mine. Scope 1 energy consumption in 2020 was 274 175 556kWh. This represents a decrease of 12% from the 2019 figures, attributable to the decreased mobile and stationary combustion at the Letšeng mine. Scope 2 energy consumption was 62 638 611kWh in 2020, a 10.5% decrease from 2019. 98% of the Scope 1 and 2 energy consumption in 2020 is attributed to the Letšeng mine, and less than one percent of Scope 1 and 2 energy consumption originated from our UK-based operations. Energy conservation initiatives implemented in 2019 continued at the Letšeng Mine, however most energy consumption reductions in 2020 can be attributed to reduced operational activities as a result of COVID-19-related restrictions.

Our context

Mining is one of the main contributors to a host country's gross domestic product (GDP) and offers one of the most considerable direct and indirect employment opportunities during a mine's lifespan. However, the consequence is the potential for adverse environmental and socio-economic impacts if the mine is not managed responsibly during-and-post its lifespan. Rehabilitating environmental damage is not enough to successfully close a mine. Mine closure plans should restore and reconstruct both the environmental and socio-economic status of the projected affected community (PAC). Closure plans should also include a budget, a restoration timeline, a description of how environmental areas will be rehabilitated and establish alternative employment opportunities for PACs.

We take a long-term view of the land under our management, recognising that adverse impacts must be remediated to demonstrate responsible stewardship of natural resources. All our project life cycles are focused on the eventual restoration of the land we use, and multiple CSI initiatives implemented support social-economic opportunities for our PACs. Remediation of our Letšeng mine poses a unique challenge because it is the world's highest diamond mine, with an altitude of ±3 200 meters above sea level. Revegetation of this area can be challenging due to the remoteness of the mine and its extreme environment.

Our approach

We follow best practice when planning mine-closure programmes. We believe that this forms part of our responsibility to our host countries and the communities who live in proximity to our mines. Our operations have integrated rehabilitation plans to ensure that we meet our closure objectives as efficiently as possible. With these plans, we can better manage our operations' environmental impact and identify cost-effective rehabilitation strategies. Plans are revisited on an annual basis.

An annual quantification of the rehabilitation and restoration costs is performed in the event of an unforeseen mine closure. Adequate financial provision for this is recognised in the Group's financial statements. In addition, concurrent rehabilitation is pursued at Letšeng to ensure that environmental damage is mitigated. Letšeng mine is located in the extreme highlands of Lesotho. We face a unique challenge that guidance on successful rehabilitation is scarce – a series of trials to examine different rehabilitation applications to test the closure criteria have been tested since 2012 and form the basis for estimating the mine's rehabilitation and closure costs. These trials have been selected to replicate the rehabilitation of the mine's main waste residue disposal facilities: fine tailings (slimes), coarse tailings and waste rock. The trials utilised waste rock and tailing reserves, allowing for minimal topsoil requirements. The trials also included studies on vegetation rehabilitation and restoration of natural ecosystems. Vegetation restoration studies were conducted within the mining lease area to research veld-rehabilitation options. In 2020, Letšeng embarked on rehabilitation work on one of its coarse tailings dumps.

To achieve our rehabilitation goals, various initiatives have been undertaken, including nursery and rehabilitation trials, concurrent rehabilitation projects, as well as academic studies in collaboration with the National University of Lesotho (NUL) and the North-West University (NWU) in South Africa have been conducted at Letšeng to inform rehabilitation and present mining strategies and techniques. For more information read our responsible stewardship case study.

Our Ghaghoo mine remains under care and maintenance; its rehabilitation plans continue to be reviewed as we investigate restorative initiatives to reduce the end of life of mine liability.

The Group has engaged with independent experts at both Letšeng and Ghaghoo to understand the quantum of work to be done to ensure safe and responsible mine closure at the end of life of mine. The Group's rehabilitation plans and resultant liability are externally reviewed annually.

In 2020 the Group rehabilitation provision amounted to US$16.1 million.

Our performance

  • US$16.1 million environmental rehabilitation provision (2019: US$18.7 million);
  • 6 174ha of land under our management (2019: 6 174ha);
  • 10.2ha newly disturbed by mining operations during the year (2019: 28ha),
  • Total disturbed land to 774.2ha (2019: 764ha);
  • Rehabilitation plans were updated at both mines; and
  • Rehabilitation and revegetation trials at Letšeng are proving successful.

Our context

While mining is a significant contributor to host nations' socio-economic prosperity, it also has a significant environmental impact. Gem Diamonds takes its responsibility to mitigate environmental damage, protect biodiversity, and enhance conservation efforts seriously. Our Letšeng mine is located high in the Maluti mountains, in an area with low population density and is primarily surrounded by small subsistence farming communities.

Our approach

We believe that our responsibility is to protect the biodiversity of indigenous flora and fauna surrounding our mine. We achieve this by collecting and storing topsoil for all areas of potential disturbance so that we can use the collected topsoil to rehabilitate those areas at a later time. We collaborate and partner extensively with our host countries, our PACs, peer mining companies, regulators, scientists and other industry stakeholders to implement practical environmental protection strategies. These strategies are integrated into our business transformation (BT) and continuous improvement (CI) programme. Our ultimate goal is to ensure the long-term sustainability and prosperity (from both an environmental and socio-economic perspective) for our host communities, our PACs and ourselves. Bioremediation is a critical part of our conservation efforts. To read more on our progress, please refer to ensuring long-term environmental well-being case study.

Since 2015, Letšeng has rolled out a bi-annual mammal-monitoring protocol to monitor our potential adverse impacts, as well as the positive effects of the mine's conservation and management actions. Collection records for the 2020 survey cycle showed nine mammal species across the mine lease area, including three species listed as near-threatened (regionally and globally), namely the endangered Maluti Stream frog, Vaal Rhebok and Southern African Vlei Rat. It is encouraging to note that the persistent presence of large and medium-sized animals (such as the Black-backed Jackal and Vaal Rhebok) across the four survey periods provides evidence of the efficacy of the conservation actions and management programmes at the mine, whereby the mine lease area provides a form of protection for these animals. Furthermore, the recent discovery of a Maluti Stream frog colony at the Qa Qa wetland, the abundance of rodents, notably the Slogget's Rat and the Natal Mole-rat, includes evidence of stable wetland habitats.

Our performance

  • RTZ catchment position completed in 2020;
  • Conservation plans updated annually;
  • Bi-annual mammal-monitoring protocol rolled out; and
  • Endangered Maluti Stream frog colony populates the Qa Qa wetland.