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What is the carbon footprint for one gram of pure gold?

The question

What is the carbon footprint for one gram of pure gold?

J. Stephen Lure

The answer

I got in touch with Earthworks to find the answer to this one - here is their reply:

"We have data on the greenhouse gas emissions produced from large-scale gold mining. This does not include further emissions resulting from transportation or refining away from the mine site. Some of the equivalent emissions for comparison may not be particularly useful to you (some I did for a fact sheet for Ecuador).

If we convert the calculations below for kg of gold to grams of gold, the CO2 equivalent (CO2-e) would be:
up to 76.7 kg CO2-e per gram
an average of 12.1 kg CO2-e per gram

Gold mines individually reported producing up to 76.7 tonnes of CO2 equivalent (CO2-e) per kg of gold produced, or the equivalent of the annual emissions of over 150 Ecuadorians.

An average reporting gold mine in 2005 produced 12.1 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per kg of gold produced, or the equivalent of the annual emissions of over 20 Ecuadorians.

[Mudd, G. 2007. Global trends in gold mining: Towards quantifying environmental and resource sustainability Resources Policy 32:42-56.

US Energy Information Administration. 2007. International Energy Annual 2005. US Department of Energy. Table H1

Per capita calculation based on Ecuador population 2005-6 estimate of 13 408 270 from United Nations Statistics Division. 2008. Population and Vital Statistics Report: Series A.]

The average gold mine produces 150,000 tonnes of CO2-e (CO2 equivalent) per year, or more than the power plant emissions of the entire country of Tanzania.

Barrick Gold’s Goldstrike mine produced 1,275,000 tonnes of CO2-e in 2005, or more than the power plant emissions of the entire country of Norway or Bolivia.

[Data from Gavin Mudd used in Mudd, G. 2007. Global trends in gold mining: Towards quantifying environmental and resource sustainability? Resources Policy 32:42-56. Country emissions from CARMA, Carbon Monitoring for Action]"

I hope this is helpful.  To break things down further, here is my Gold mining fact file

The negatives:

  • 1 wedding ring creates an average of 20 tonnes of toxic waste by standard mining practices. Two thirds of newly mined gold is extracted from huge open pit mines, many of which can be seen from space.
  • Mines usually use cyanide, mercury, arsenic and sulphuric acid in their processing; mine waste can leach into the ground and waterways. Mine waste has been found to turn ground water 30 times more acidic than battery acid. Land is then not able to be used for other purposes after the closure of the mines for some time (alternative livelihoods such as agriculture, fishing or tourism are a few of the options which local communities could otherwise depend on if a proper 'clear up' and regeneration of land took place).
  • The sump deposits left by mining have been linked to increases in malaria and TB as they can hold stagnant water which creates a breeding ground for mosquitoes.  This is often in areas that are already struggling with poor sanitation and that lack affordable medical care. Again, proper land managagement can prevent this.

The positives:

  • 'Fair Trade' is usually associated with coffee, bananas or chocolate; the Fair Trade Labelling Organisation is looking into how it can apply the same standards to register small scale gold miners.
  • Fairly traded gold means the miners get paid 5-15% over the London Fix price for gold, which means they are paid a fair and correct price for it based on value.
  • Fifi Bijoux only uses gold which is extracted without the use of cyanide, mercury or arsenic, from fair trading mines. The gold is panned for from alluvial deposits and thus has minimum environmental impact.
  • Fair trading mines currently exist in Colombia, Argentina and Bolivia.
  • Mining profits can be re-invested to benefit the local community. Fifi Bijoux Limited edition 'Bahia' range uses rutile quartz form Brazil; the profits are re-invested into a local organic farming and seed bank programme.

Fifi Bijoux designs collections which are shown at London Fashion Week each season and was recently commended as 'Best New Designer'. Fifi Bijoux also designs engagement rings and couture items, using ethical diamonds.

Further reading

Envirostats - Dirty Metals

National Geographic Jan 2009 - The Real Cost of Gold

Answered by: Vivien Johnston

Question by:J. Stephen Lure