Environmental activists have sued government to stop a proposed mining project in a protected national forest, which they say endangers their health and well-being, amid growing calls to increase nature reserves to combat climate change.
The proposed mine in the Atewa Range Forest is part of a $2 billion deal signed with China, which will gain access to bauxite – used to make aluminium – in exchange for financing infrastructure projects such as roads and bridges in Ghana.
Seven local advocacy groups and four citizens claim that mining in the forest violates their constitutional right to a clean and healthy environment and their right to protect it for future generations, their lawyer said this week.
“The forest is our life,” said Oteng Adjei, head of Concerned Citizens of the Atewa Landscape, one of the groups involved in the case, which went to the High Court on July 1, according to documents seen by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“Bauxite mining is a one-time payment. (The government) cannot bring back the original forest.”
Government spokesman did not immediately respond to requests for comment, and the state-owned Ghana Integrated Aluminium Development Corporation (GIADEC) declined to comment.
President Nana Akufo-Addo has previously said the bauxite can be extracted without disturbing the wildlife, and GIADEC has promised the growing bauxite industry will create 35,000 jobs.
Scientists estimate at least a million species face extinction in the next few decades and the United Nations wants governments to back plans to conserve 30% of the earth’s surface by 2030 at its Biodiversity Convention in China next year.
Across Africa, local groups are becoming increasingly emboldened to use the courts to pursue grievances against mining firms, as they balance the need to boost growth and jobs with maintaining their dwindling forest cover.
Ghana experienced a 60% rise in primary forest loss between 2017 and 2018 – the highest rise in any tropical country, according to the U.S.-based Global Forest Watch, with trees lost to illegal mining, logging and expanding cocoa farms.
The Atewa forest is home to rare plants and animals and is the source of three major rivers that provide water to millions, including residents of the capital Accra, about 90 km away.
Campaigners want it to be turned into a national park, but bulldozers have already begun to clear paths in the forest.
Activists and residents have been campaigning since 2017 to stop the mine with marches, an online petition nearly 30,000 signatures, a billboard outside the presidential palace and support on Twitter from actor Leonardo DiCaprio.
“It is unfortunate that time and again, citizens have to fight our own government before we can secure our environment,” said Daryl Bosu, deputy national director of A Rocha Ghana, one of the conservation groups suing the government.