Pacific CSO’s call for moratorium on deep seabed mining

29 Aug 2012

Pacific Islands News Association

A day before the regional framework on sea-bed mining is launched in Rarotonga, a group of Pacific civil society organisation have released a legal opinion calling for a moratorium on deep sea mining (DSM).

Civil society groups comprised of the Pacific Conference of Churches, Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG) and ACT NOW from Papua New Guinea said their legal opinion challenged the definition of the precautionary approach to mining, now actively promoted for the Pacific.

“The conclusion of the legal opinion clearly states that the correct interpretation of the precautionary principle leads to only one plausible result – a moratorium on seabed mining, said PANG Co-ordinator, Maureen Penjueli.

The group said very little is known about sea floor mining technology, efficacy, safety and the impacts that may arise from the process.

“These uncertainties warrant unprecedented caution and attention before proceeding with full scale development of seabed mining.

The precautionary principle dictates taking a cautious approach in matters that affect the environment when there is scientific uncertainty about the negative impacts. It is widely used in international environmental law and has been applied in the courts in areas such as climate change, hazardous waste, fisheries and sustainable development.

The precautionary principle is clearly cited in the Rio+20 Declaration, said Effrey Dademo of ACT NOW in Papua New Guinea.

“There is also a clear obligation on all States to widely apply the principle. This includes the need for an open, informed and democratic process involving all affected parties and this is something that has not happened here in the Pacific prior to the introduction of experimental seabed mining.

Marie Isimeli from the Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC) said the group is pleading with Pacific Leaders to listen to the voices of its people.

“We are pleading with the Leaders to recognise the challenges we face if we continue in the direction that is being legitimized and fast tracked by technical agency dealing with seabed mining, SOPAC.

“We have come with the concerns of our brothers and sisters from the Pacific and we bring these concerns to the door step of the Leaders and seek for their wisdom.

Based on the experiences of places like Bougainville in Papua New Guinea, it has been found that mining has not resulted in the improvement of the livelihood of people and has not decreased national economic budgetary challenges.

In addition to the 10-page legal opinion, regional NGOs will also present a petition with more than 8,000 signatures from around the Pacific region and beyond, opposing seabed mining to the Cook Islands Government as the new chair of the Pacific Islands Forum.

“This is one of several petitions to demonstrate the growing concerns to sea bed mining in the region. We are trying to catch up in some of our island countries but there is a recurring theme that people are beginning to express concerns because they simply don’t know enough about the decisions taken by government, the science involved around it. It is clearly unknown, said Penjueli.

Both Tonga and Nauru are pursuing exploration licenses in international waters in the east Pacific through their sponsoring companies, Tonga Offshore Mining Limited and Nauru Offshore Resources Inc.

The Canadian mining company, Nautilus Minerals Inc is expected as early as the end of 2012 to begin mining the Seafloor Massive Sulphide system at depths of 1.46 kilometres under the sea off the coast of New Ireland in Papua New Guinea. These companies will be extracting high value minerals such as gold, silver, copper, ore and manganese.