Monika Singh | Fiji Times | March 19, 2016
THE oversights in the SPC-EU funded Regional Legislative and Regulatory Framework for Deep Sea Minerals (DSM) Exploration and Exploitation could expose individual countries to liability including compensation claims under established international law for harms resulting from DSM that take place from activities under their control, both within and beyond domestic waters.
Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG)co-ordinator Maureen Penjueli said while they appreciated the attempt to provide a model legal framework for the Pacific region, they urged SPC to supplement the framework with comprehensive provisions that properly enshrine both free, prior and informed consent.
Ms Penjueli says the assessment of the framework should act as signposts for Fiji and other Pacific Islands in terms of safeguarding the human rights and environmental protection of their land. She says Fiji is reviewing its legislation on the issue which was a positive move.
“The Pacific Network on Globalisation and our collective partners — Pacific Conference of Churches, DAWN (Development Alternatives for Women in a New Era), BRG (Bismark Ramu Group), Act Now! PNG — have been closely following the issue of seabed mining in the region since 2010, which coincided with the SPC-EU funded project looking at seabed mining in the region.
“At that time we were gravely concerned by the lack of scientific knowledge particularly around potential and or actual impacts of seabed mining from an environmental, social, and cultural perspective.
“There was also a significant lack of knowledge about the technology and its potential impact.
“This is an industry that has never been tried, tested anywhere in the world. The Pacific is ground zero, a testing ground, new frontier.
“We were concerned that there was an overt emphasis on the purported benefits of seabed mining which was purely an economic benefit, including jobs for island nations.
“In our view at that time it was very clear that there was insufficient information for informed policy-making at the regional level and national level.
“We knew that international law (environmental law precautionary principle, human rights law particularly around indigenous rights) offered clear best practice that the region could seek to incorporate in such a situation.”
“The launch of the SPC-EU funded Regional Legislative Framework for DSM Exploration and Exploitation in 2012, in our view, sent a clear signal to the world that the Pacific was ready for seabed mining. We saw a correlation between the launch of the SPC-EU funded framework and a race to divide up the last remaining territory — ocean floor.”
She said a significant number of exploration and exploitation licences were issued across the Pacific and by 2014, a total of 4,323,000 square kilometres of ocean floor were under contract between mining companies and island nations.
Many Pacific Island governments rushed to enact legislation and policies after many had already issued exploration and exploitation licences, creating a sense of inevitability that seabed mining is going to take place in the Pacific Ocean.
“Any opposition to, or attempts to caution, resist or halt was considered unrealistic, anti-development, anti-progress which is simply not true.
“We had over 30,000 signatures to present to leaders to call for a moratorium on seabed mining in 2012 the Cook Islands,” Ms Penjueli said.
“Indigenous communities who are at the forefront particularly in PNG were already opposed to seabed mining. This created an environment in which the burden of proof shifted from transnational mining companies to indigenous communities, civil society organisations to prove the need for caution and prudence.
“In this regard we sought the technical expertise — legal, scientific, social, cultural even the artistic community to respond to this; which brings us to the collaboration between Blue Ocean Law and the Pacific Network on Globalisation.
“It is a recognition of the significance of the SPC framework to establish a comprehensive framework for deep sea mining, which governments can consider and adopt through corresponding implementing legislation.”
Ms Penjueli said the culmination of their collaboration was the analysis of the SPC-EU funded framework, which was launched to the public to be part of their tool kits in responding to the issue of seabed mining in the region.
Blue Ocean Law will elaborate on the specific omissions in the framework and recommendations on how to bring it into full compliance with international environmental and indigenous safeguards.