By Effrey Dademo, ACT NOW!
SOPAC, a division of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (SPC), is pushing ahead with a European Union funded project to promote experimental deep-sea mining in the Pacific region without first consulting with communities about whether this form of mining is environmentally, socially or economically appropriate.
There is currently no scientific consensus on the consequences of mining seabed hydrothermal vents and a lot of international concern about its implications. There is also no evidence to suggest mining by large foreign corporations really delivers a better quality of life for local people in the Pacific. Yet SOPAC, in alliance with the mining industry and EU, is pushing ahead with developing laws and a regulatory framework for this risky and unproven new industry.
The evidence from Papua New Guinea is that large-scale mining does not deliver a better quality of life for local people and causes a multitude of social and environmental problems. PNG has many mining operations but the Gross National Product per capita is much lower than Pacific countries that are not being exploited by mining companies.
According to the World Bank, GNP per capita in PNG is $1,300 while in Micronesia, Vanuatu and Samoa GNP is more than twice as high, at $2,700, $2,760 and $2,930 respectively. In Fiji and Tonga GNP is almost three times greater than PNG and in Palau GNP is five-times higher than in PNG. Mining might increase government revenues but most of the money is taken away by the foreign mining companies and their highly paid expatriate staff. In contrast incomes from local food production and farming are wholly retrained in the communities where the businesses are located and these types of enterprise provide a truly sustainable future.
SOPAC says there is misunderstanding and misinformation about its Deep Sea Minerals Project but the truth is it is being driven by the mining industry and the EU, who want to use Pacific resources to increase their own wealth. The mining industry has been working with SOPAC for many years to map the minerals in the Pacific and those relationships mean we can have no faith in the impartiality of SOPAC in providing technical advice to island countries.
Further, before we drive ahead with laws and regulations we need to decide if the Pacific wants to again be the guinea pig for untried and untested technology just as it was for nuclear testing. Why don’t we let Canada, the US or the EU do their testing in their own waters rather than ours? Perhaps they are afraid of more environmental disasters like the 2010 seabed oil drilling debacle in the Gulf of Mexico.
SOPAC is clearly wrong to say that laws and regulatory frameworks will ensure sustainable resource management and tangible benefits to the Pacific. Again we need to look no further than PNG which has outstanding protections in its Constitution and Environmental laws but has suffered some of the worlds worst mining disasters and a prolonged civil war caused by some the world’s largest mining companies.
Despite the denials from SOPAC we stand by our statement that the Deep Sea Minerals Project of the SPC (SOPAC) disenfranchises indigenous people and promotes the interest of big mining companies at the expense of local communities.
SOPAC is spending more time talking with Nautilus Minerals in private meetings and exclusive international workshops than it is having a conversation with the Pacific communities that will suffer the potential impacts of the mining. Nautilus is the Canadian company spearheading much of the seabed exploration in the Pacific and plans to start production at the world’s first undersea mine in PNG in 2013.
The SOPAC has stated the overall objective of the project is to develop an experimental seabed mining industry in the Pacific but fails to explain how an extractive industry can be “sustainable” nor how it will be different from other mining operations that have failed to improve the livelihood of local communities.
While SOPAC may be correct to say that experimental seabed mining could “expand the economic resource base of Pacific countries” this should not be confused with genuine development and improved livelihoods for Pacific people.
We should also not be fooled by fancy statements about “strengthening the system of governance and the capacity of Pacific States” to manage experimental seabed mining. Nothing SOPAC or the SPC can do is going to change the power imbalance between global mining corporations and Pacific Island governments and bureaucrats that make fine sounding laws and policy frameworks meaningless when it comes down to the actual management of individual mine sites.
Laws and policies did not protect the people of Ok Tedi or Bougainville and they will not protect the people impacted by experimental seabed mining.
Rather than continually dancing to the tune of global corporations, captured governments and their failed economic system of unregulated capitalism, SPC and SOPAC should be looking to support and nurture our own Pacific ways of doing business and caring for our families and the environment.