Tag Archives: Rio Tinto

Can Gucci Save the Steppes of Mongolia?

 Essential to the identity and economy of Mongolia—more than half of the country’s 3 million people live there—the grasslands are under increasing threat from overgrazing and climate change. Multiple studies over the past decade have shown that the once lush Mongolian steppe, an expanse twice the size of Texas that is one of the world’s largest remaining grasslands, is slowly turning into a desert. An estimated 70% of all the grazing lands in the country are considered degraded to some degree…. 

The collective here of a little more than 100 families is at the center of an unusual effort, run by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), to turn space-based maps of the grasslands into a tool for making grazing more sustainable. Supported by the world’s largest mining company and a luxury apparel giant, the pilot effort uses data gathered by NASA and Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, to help herders find places where the vegetation is healthy enough to sustain their voracious herds.

 Meanwhile, development, especially mining, has exponentially increased water usage. Twelve percent of rivers and 21% of lakes have dried up entirely. An increasing number of people, vehicles, and heavy equipment put additional stress on the land.  But one factor stands out: overgrazing, which, according to a 2013 study by researchers at Oregon State University in Corvallis, has caused 80% of the recent decline in vegetation on the grasslands.

Mongolia is now the world’s second-largest cashmere producer, after China. Goats, which account for more than half of all grazing animals on the grasslands, can be more lucrative than other livestock, but they’re also much more destructive than the sheep they’ve replaced because they eat roots and the flowers that seed new grasses=s.

WCS’s Sustainable Cashmere project may offer part of the solution. The project, whose budget the organizers won’t disclose, is funded by mining giant Rio Tinto, which runs a massive copper mine not far away, and Kering, the French luxury apparel giant that owns Gucci, Balenciaga, and other brands that need cashmere. Both aim to help offset their impact on the Mongolian environment, a requirement of Rio’s mining agreement and part of Kering’s corporate social responsibility program.

Excerpts Kathleen McLaughlin, Saving the steppes, Science, Feb. 1, 2019

The Battle for Iron Ore: Guinea

Buried beneath the mist-capped mountains of south-eastern Guinea is one of the world’s biggest deposits of iron ore. Estimated at around 2.2 billion tonnes, the Simandou concession contains almost as much as the entire global iron-ore industry produced in 2013. Thanks to its size and unusually high quality, some experts say that whoever controls Simandou may dominate the world’s iron-ore sector for a generation.

After a decade of wrangling, Guinea has now struck a deal worth $20 billion with Rio Tinto, a British-Australian metals and mining giant, to exploit the southern half of the deposit. This should enable the company to mine 95m tonnes of ore from the jungle-matted mountains every year, creating 45,000 jobs and doubling the west African state’s GDP. Rio Tinto has also agreed to build a deepwater port and a railway line to take the ore 650km (400 miles) to the sea. Guinea’s government hopes it will create a “growth corridor” stretching the length of the country.

Until recently it had looked as though Guinea would gain little from its abundant natural resources, which also include diamonds, bauxite and gold. The dirt-poor country has been a classic case of the “resource curse”: blessed with natural riches but still languishing at the bottom of almost every development index, thanks to corrupt, warmongering rulers.

Days before he died in 2008, Guinea’s then dictator, Lansana Conté, signed over the rights to mine the northern half of Simandou, which Rio Tinto then owned, to an Israeli businessman, Benny Steinmetz, for $160m. Mr Steinmetz soon sold a 51% share on to a big Brazilian mining company, Vale, for $2.5 billion, prompting Mo Ibrahim, a Sudanese-born British telecoms billionaire and philanthropist, to remark, “Are the Guineans who did that deal idiots, or criminals, or both?”

In April 2014 the democratically elected government of President Alpha Condé stripped Mr Steinmetz and Vale of their concession. Mr Steinmetz has begun arbitration proceedings against the government of Guinea; Rio Tinto is suing both Steinmetz and Vale, accusing them of conspiring to steal its rights. The Guinean government has said that Vale may not have known about the various allegations of dishonesty against Mr Steinmetz and is therefore free to bid in the future for the rights to blocks in the Simandou area that have yet to be allocated.

Excerpts, Guinea and its iron ore: Let the people benefit, for once, Economist, June 7, 2014, at 57