Category Archives: Pacific region

PNG politicians push coal as Pacific islanders rail against climate change

 Catherine Wilson | Mongabay | 12 March 2019

  • Politicians in Papua New Guinea have thrown their support behind a plan to power the country’s development through coal.
  • The plan to establish coal mines and power plants gained prominence following a publicity tour hosted by rugby stars and sponsored by Australian mining and energy firm Mayur.
  • Mayur’s proposal for a project combining coal, solar and biomass energy remains stalled, pending approval by the country’s newly restructured energy utility.
  • The project faces opposition both locally and in other Pacific island states, where climate change-driven sea level rises pose a serious threat.

Politicians in Papua New Guinea are ratcheting up their support for a new foray into coal mining and power generation, even as neighboring states call for a global reduction in carbon emissions to stave off a catastrophic rise in the sea level.

PNG’s mining minister, Johnson Tuke, recently hailed the prospect of a new coal industry to boost government revenue and public access to electricity, following visits to coal mines and power stations in Australia. PNG has no coal mines or coal-fired power plants; in Australia, 60 percent of grid electricity comes from burning coal.

But the burning of coal is one of the largest contributors to human-driven climate change, setting PNG up on a collision course with smaller Pacific island states, such as Kiribati and Tuvalu, where rising sea levels threaten coastal communities and undermine water and food security. Leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum — which comprises 18 states, including PNG, Australia, Kiribati and Tuvalu, among others — emphasized during their annual summit in Nauru last year that “climate change remains the single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and well-being of the peoples of the Pacific.”

“This move by the PNG government is a total negation of the plight that the small island states in the Pacific are facing due to the negative impacts of climate change,” says Tafue Lusama, a climate change activist and leader of the Tuvalu Christian Church. “For one of our own brother countries in the Pacific to turn its back on our struggles is [an issue] that needs serious pleading and dialogue.”

A young boy looks at the mud, contaminated by salt water, that used to be a garden on Iangain Island in Papua New Guinea. Pacific Island leaders have identified sea level rise as one of the primary threats facing the region. Image © Greenpeace / Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert.

Australian extractive and energy company Mayur Resources has plans to construct a mixed coal power station in the eastern PNG port city of Lae, in the province of Morobe. Mayur, which has a major stake in coal exploration in neighboring Gulf province, signed a memorandum of agreement last October with the Lae city authority and the Morobe government to build an “Enviro Energy Park.” The project, which aims to use solar energy, coal and renewable biomass sourced within the country to generate electricity, has received environmental approval and is backed by Mining Minister Tuke, Energy Minister Sam Basil, and Lae MP John Rosso.

Mayur says coal is needed to help provide cheap, reliable electricity, and will help boost living standards and economic growth.

“We, as a 100 percent PNG industrial minerals and energy-focused business, are passionate about injecting all forms of energy that are cheaper and better environmentally than what PNG currently has, that also generates local industry and displaces imported energy fuels, such as heavy fuel oils and diesel, that drain PNG’s wealth,” Paul Mulder, Mayur Resources’ managing director, tells Mongabay.

Although the country produces and exports natural gas, refined and crude petroleum accounted for 11.2 percent of PNG’s total imports in 2017, costing the country nearly $400 million.

“If PNG ever wants to get to Australia’s level of prosperity, it will need to install 20,000 megawatts,” Mulder says. “PNG is not even managing 100 megawatts being installed per year. PNG political leaders have to somehow explain that it will take PNG 200 years from today to achieve the same living standard as Australia. This does not even cater for the huge population growth over the next two centuries which PNG will have… I am sure there is not one politician, not one business owner or one resident who wants to wait that long.”

Rain clouds in the mountains along the coast south of Lae. Image © Markus Mauthe / Greenpeace

PNG has one of the world’s lowest electrification rates: only about 13 percent of its people have access to mains electricity. Rugged forest-covered mountain ranges and scattered islands make grid-based power distribution a logistical challenge. This lack of access to electricity, widespread in rural areas where more than 80 percent of the country’s 8.2 million people live, contributes to the country’s low human development; an estimated 40 percent of people live below the poverty line.

Nevertheless, the PNG government is yet to issue any coal mining licenses and the proposed Enviro Energy Park remains in limbo without a power purchasing contract.

Mayur was invited by state-owned PNG Power Ltd. to submit a proposal in 2015, but the proposal has yet to be assessed by the power company’s board. PNG Power underwent a major restructuring in 2018, and with the new management came new priorities. In February, PNG Power’s acting managing director, Carolyn Blacklock, told the Post Courier newspaper that the utility now plans to increase the use of renewable energy without coal, and that a competitive, public bidding process will be required before any new projects are commissioned.

“It is not a planned activity of PNG Power and is not being considered,’ Blacklock said of Mayur’s 2015 proposal.

“Mayur has been waiting three years since its PPA [power purchasing agreement] submission,” Mulder said. “It could have already built the two 30 MW units of power generation on the Western Tidal Basin in Lae, providing businesses with extremely cheap steam and generating very reliable power with solar, coal and biomass that would already be saving PNG Power tens of millions of kina.”

Pita Meanke leans against a palm tree as high waves surge past a sea wall and into his family’s property in Betio Village on Kirabati’s Tarawa Island. PNG’s push for coal power has raised opposition from other Pacific island countries who fear inundation due to rising sea levels. Image © Greenpeace / Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert

There could be changes in the country’s power industry with a new National Energy Bill currently being finalized. If passed, this would mandate a National Energy Authority to enforce safety and quality standards in the industry, encourage more power companies to operate, and increase competitive electricity pricing.

But there is still opposition from civil society, even after Mayur arranged for Australian rugby legends Sam Thaiday and Darren Lockyer (who is employed as the company’s business affairs manager), to visit PNG earlier this year and talk up the coal industry. Local environmental group Nogat Coal PNG and landowners in Morobe province’s Markham Valley, the site of a potential biomass energy project, say coal has no place in the country.

The Australian-backed case for coal faces wider opposition. Many leaders across the Pacific view the developed nation’s refusal to transition away from coal and reduce its carbon emissions — which reached a record high of nearly 530 million tonnes in March last year — as contributing to their potential demise due to climate change.

“As I always say in my advocacy works around the globe, and especially to big industrialized countries, your actions and decisions now will catch up with you sooner than later,” Lusama says. “For what we are facing today will only accelerate according to such ignorant decisions, and by the time you feel the wrath of the devastating impacts of climate change, it will be far too late to do anything.”

The mouth of the Bairaman River, where it meets the sea in East New Britain province. Image © Paul Hilton/Greenpeace

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Environmental impact, Pacific region, Papua New Guinea

The perils of mining the deep

A guest blog from the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition

Matthew Gianni & Sian Owen | The Economist | February 11, 2019

The deep seabed was once believed to be a lifeless realm of mud and rock. This barren image changed dramatically, however, as technology to explore the hidden depths improved. In 2016, the United Nations First World Ocean Assessment described the deep sea as a ‘vast realm which constitutes the largest source of species and ecosystem diversity on Earth, supporting ecosystem processes necessary for our planet’s natural systems to function.’

Scientists are just beginning to discover the full richness of deep-sea life. Yet already a number of companies and countries are exploring the deep ocean for minerals and developing the technology to mine some of the last untouched areas of our planet. Much of the commercial interest is focused on deposits of cobalt, copper, nickel and manganese found in nodules that lie on the deep seabed in an area known as the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone (CCZ).

Imagine what mining would look like. To collect commercially viable quantities of the metals in the CCZ, a single 30-year mining operation in the area would churn up an estimated 9,000-10,000 km2 of seabed – an area the size of Lebanon. Sediment plumes generated by the activity would fill the surrounding waters and be carried away by deep currents, reaching ecosystems far beyond the mining site. The noise and light of the subsea machinery could cause harm to marine organisms adapted to the quiet darkness, while large quantities of wastewater with residual ore and sediment would be discharged back into the sea.

Beyond national borders

The CCZ is located in the eastern Pacific Ocean between Mexico and Hawaii, beyond the maritime jurisdiction of any country. This area, like all other international stretches of the seabed, is managed by the International Seabed Authority (ISA), a global body established by the UN Law of the Sea. The ISA is now developing regulations that would permit mining on ‘behalf of mankind as a whole’. ISA member countries have set a target date of 2020 to finalize the regulations in order to be ‘open for business’. In the meantime, the ISA has already handed out 29 licenses to explore for deep-sea minerals, covering some 1.5 million km2 of the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans. Sixteen of these licenses are in the CCZ.

Meeting demand, on land

Proponents often claim that mining the international seabed is essential for the manufacture of electric batteries, wind turbines and other technology needed for a renewable energy economy. A 2016 report by the Institute for Sustainable Futures refutes this claim. Having reviewed global supplies and projected demand for metals considered key to renewable energy technology, the report concludes that even under the most ambitious scenario – a 100% renewable energy economy globally by 2050 – projected demand could be met by existing terrestrial mining, improved metals recycling, alternatives to metals in short supply, and smarter technology and product design. The report was cited in the World Bank’s recent assessment of future metals needs for renewable energy technologies.

Cobalt in particular, used in batteries for everything from phones to electric vehicles, is often cited as a reason to open up the deep sea to mining. There is growing concern over erratic supplies, poor working conditions and the use of child labour reported in mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where 60-70% of the global cobalt supply is sourced.

To address these issues, several global entities, including BMW, Umicore, Trafigura, the African Development Bank, and the US Department of Labor, are working on the ground and in the marketplace. Some major battery manufacturing companies like Tesla and Panasonic have committed to phasing out cobalt over the coming decade. Others are actively investing in research and development for substitutes.

The success of these efforts remains to be seen. But direct engagement with the sector in the DRC and working on improved sustainability and standards within the current supply chain are more likely to address problems with terrestrial mining than opening up a new deep-sea industry with its host of new risks and impacts.

Great promise or great extinction?

A 2018 submission to the ISA signed by 50 non-governmental organisations questions whether deep-sea mining can ever be compatible with countries’ obligations to protect and sustainably manage the oceans. Recent articles published in international scientific journals argue that biodiversity loss from deep-sea mining is likely to be inevitable and irrevocable, and that most of this loss would be permanent on human timescales.

This sentiment is beginning to gain political traction. The European Parliament adopted a resolution on international oceans governance in January 2018, calling for a moratorium on deep-sea mining until the risks to the environment are fully understood. This call was repeated by the UN Envoy on Oceans at the recent World Economic Forum meeting in Davos.

Concerted international efforts to halt and reverse biodiversity loss are critical to the survival of life as we know it. The international community of nations should not agree to permit deep-sea mining on the global ocean commons until the risks are fully understood and we are certain that it will not open up a whole new frontier of ecosystem degradation, biodiversity loss and extinction.

For more from Matthew and Sian, follow the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition on twitter at @DeepSeaConserve.

Leave a comment

Filed under Environmental impact, Pacific region

Logging, mining and fisheries at centre of increasing slave trade in Pacific

The delegates that were in Apia for a people smuggling/human trafficking transnational crime workshop. Photo: Supplied

Concerns over increasing slave trade in Pacific

Radio New Zealand | 21 February 2019 

The Pacific Immigration Development Community says human trafficking to the point of slavery is increasingly common in industries like logging, mining and fishing.

The immigration watchdog says island countries are now both a source and destination for human trafficking and people smuggling.

The watchdog’s head Ioane Alama said people smuggling occurs when migrants cross borders illegally but human trafficking is more sinister.

“There is always an essence of exploitation. The person being trafficked, there is a form of exploitation, either be labour, forced labour, in some cases servitude, we’ve heard of sexual exploitation, in terms of prostitution.

“And also more recently we’re hearing references to slavery, of slavery, or practices similar to slavery.”

Ioane Alama said Pacific governments are improving how they detect and prevent human trafficking through better information sharing and increased vigilance.

Leave a comment

Filed under Human rights, Pacific region

PIANGO pans seabed mining

“If mining was the panacea to the economic issues of the Pacific, we’d have solved all our problems long ago. Instead the environmental and social impacts of mining have made our peoples poorer”

Radio New Zealand |15 February 2019

The Pacific Islands Association of Non-Government Organisations (PIANGO) has called on regional governments to recognise the risks of seabed mining.

The call comes as Pacific governments met in Tonga this week to discuss their hopes of exploiting minerals on the ocean floor.

PIANGO executive director Emele Duituturaga said seabed mining threatened fisheries, marine environments and ocean livelihoods.

As well as calling for a ban, Ms Duituturaga asked governments not make hasty decisions about taking up seabed mining.

“This workshop is pedalling deep sea mining to our governments but who will benefit?

“If mining was the panacea to the economic issues of the Pacific, we’d have solved all our problems long ago. Instead the environmental and social impacts of mining have made our peoples poorer,” Ms Duituturaga said.

Leave a comment

Filed under Environmental impact, Financial returns, Human rights, Pacific region

Second Wave Due Diligence: The Case for Incorporating Free, Prior, and Informed Consent into the Deep Sea Mining Regulatory Regime

A new article, Second Wave Due Diligence, published in the Stanford Environmental Law Journal calls for the norm of free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) for indigenous peoples to be applied to deep sea mining (DSM) projects carried out in the international seabed, particularly in the Pacific region, where numerous indigenous communities stand to be directly and disproportionately impacted by this new extractive industry.

Authors Julian Aguon and Julie Hunter’s argument, while novel, relies on core prescriptions of Part XI of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) requiring compliance with international law in general, including pertinent rules of international environmental and indigenous rights law.

UNCLOS’s clear parameters on the prevention of harm to the marine environment, expounded upon by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in a series of key decisions, have created a due diligence standard that is imposing ever higher duties on an increasingly wide range of actors, including in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

This standard is evolving alongside a robust norm requiring the FPIC of indigenous peoples threatened by large-scale extractive activities, even if those activities are not directly carried out on indigenous land.

When applied to DSM, whose exploratory stage has already resulted in an array of adverse impacts to Pacific indigenous peoples, these normative legal developments coalesce into a compelling argument for placing impacted indigenous peoples into key decision-making roles.

Such an approach, which is called a “second wave” of due diligence, represents a decisive break from a destructive history in which the Pacific served as a proving ground for the experiments of others, and a concrete step toward sustainable, rights-based development in the twenty-first century and beyond.

Download: Second Wave Due Diligence

Leave a comment

Filed under Human rights, Pacific region

ISA and United Nations selling experimental seabed mining to Pacific island governments

A bulk-cutter designer for seabed mining

How can efforts to ’conserve and sustainably use the oceans’ be so seamlessly co-opted as a cover for efforts to promote the mining of the seabed?

Unfortunately international agencies like the UN are masters are such deceits and have no regard for the views of Pacific Island people who are vehemently opposed to the exploitation of the seabed…

Pacific small island developing states capacity building on deep seabed mining

International Seabed Mining | 7 February 2019

The International Seabed Authority (ISA) and the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) will hold a regional training and capacity building workshop for Pacific Small Island Developing States (P-SIDS) on deep seabed mining in Nuku’alofa, Kingdom of Tonga, from 12 to 14 February 2019. 

The workshop is being held as part of the joint ISA-UNDESA ‘Abyssal initiative for Blue Growth,’ one of the seven Voluntary Commitments made by ISA at the UN Ocean Conference in 2017 to advance implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14 (SDG 14) to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources  (#OceanAction16538).

High-level representatives from P-SIDS and experts in deep seabed mining and marine science will gather at the workshop to discuss the potential benefits [but not the potential impacts] of increased participation of P-SIDS in deep-sea related activities, and how to ensure that the people in the region will fully benefit from such activities. 

Held over three-days, the workshop will feature sessions on: the status of deep seabed mining activities in the Pacific; the roles and responsibilities of sponsoring States; the legal regime for marine scientific research and environmental management of resources. It is also envisaged that through this workshop, it will be possible to identify better the specific capacity-building needs of P-SIDS in regards to deep seabed mineral related activities.

1 Comment

Filed under Environmental impact, Human rights, Pacific region

Call for Cooks’ seabed mining licences to require risk research

Kelvin Passfield of Te Ipukarea Society. Photo: RNZ/ Sally Round

Radio New Zealand | 21 November 2018 

The Cook Islands government must focus as much on the potential environmental risks of seabed mining as it does on the economic benefits, an environmental organisation says.

In recent weeks, the government has been holding public meetings to hear feedback on its plan to open tenders for five-year, deep sea mining exploration licences at the beginning of next year.

Kelvin Passfield of the Te Ipukarea Society said little was known about the biodiversity in the exploration area.

Environmental research should be included in exploration operations, Mr Passmore said.

“We would like to see at least an equal emphasis on the biodiversity and the potential environmental impacts on that biodiversity,” he said.

“So we would like to see any exploration licence having a condition that there must be a partner in that exploration programme of a research institution.”

The Cook Islands News reported that Deputy Pm Mark Brown as saying the government was only concerned with exploration at this point.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cook Islands, Environmental impact, Financial returns, Pacific region