Last week the Government of Vanuatu hosted a regional workshop in collaboration with SPC-EU Pacific Deep Sea Minerals Project in Port Vila. Participants at the ‘Social Impacts of Deep Sea Mineral Activities and Stakeholder Participation’ workshop included representatives from civil society organizations, religious groups, deep sea mining companies and government officials from 14 Pacific Island countries.
In his opening address Vanuatu’s Minister for Land and Natural Resources, the Hon. Ralph Regenvanu, said there needed to be wide consultation before any further activities to do with seabed mineral exploration can occur in Vanuatu. Mr. Akuila Tawake, Manager of the SPC-EU Pacific Deep Sea MineralsProject,said the Minister’s comments were highly valued at a workshop that was specifically designed to support greater stakeholder consultation on the issues related to the governance of deep sea minerals resources in Pacific Island countries.
“The workshop included discussions on the potential social impacts of deep sea mining, and the importance of public debate and engagement as Governments develop policy and take decisions about whether or not to engage with this emerging industry. The SPC-EU Pacific Deep Sea Minerals Project is trying to assist the Pacific Island countries to learn from the mistakes that have been made in other industries like fisheries and on land mining. Over the last two years we have been holding Regional and National Deep Sea Minerals Stakeholder Consultation Workshops where we invite all levels of stakeholders including community leaders and NGOs,” he says.
The Port Vila workshop included presentations by international experts including Professor Colin Filer, who specialises in the social impacts of mining, and Tim Offor, an expert on stakeholder participation processes. The workshop ended with a practical role play on how to increase community and wide stakeholder participation in State decision making processes for development projects. However, Mr Tawake says one of the main benefits of the workshop was the fact that it enabled the cross-section of participants to interact and share their concerns with each other.
The range of issues discussed at the workshop in Port Vila ranged from ‘free, prior and informed consent’, to potential opportunities and socio-economic challenges for Pacific Island nationals if this new sector grows in the region. Other areas of discussion also focused on the need to ensure that any economic benefits are used to support sustainable development and support community livelihoods in the long-term.
The Government of Vanuatu is to host a regional training workshop on stakeholder participation and the social impacts of deep sea mineral activities from 10-14 June in Port Vila. The workshop is supported by the SPC-EU Pacific Deep Sea Minerals Project as part of its efforts to assist Pacific Island countries to improve the governance and management of their deep-sea mineral resources.
The Pacific Deep Sea Minerals Project is funded by the European Union and managed by SOPAC, the Applied Geoscience & Technology Division of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, on behalf of 15 Pacific Island Countries: the Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Timor Leste, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.
The Pacific Deep Sea Minerals Project is the first major initiative designed to regulate this new activity in a coordinated way within the Pacific Region. Manager of the Pacific Deep Sea Minerals Project, Mr. Akuila Tawake, says one of the main objectives of the workshop on ‘Social Impacts of Deep Sea Mineral Activities and Stakeholder Participation’ is to learn lessons from the social impacts of other extractive industries and how to minimize any potential social impacts of deep sea mining activities.
Mr. Tawake says the workshop is designed to provide government officials with skills to engage with all relevant stakeholders about the potential environmental, social and economic impacts of any future deep sea mining activities. He says the workshop participants will also include participants from a wide range of civil society organisations such as the Pacific Council of Churches and the Deep Sea Mining Campaign.
“We are trying to assist the Pacific Island countries to learn from the mistakes that have been made in other industries like fisheries and on land mining. Over the last two years we have been holding Regional and National Deep Sea Minerals Stakeholder Consultation Workshops where we invite all levels of stakeholders including community leaders and NGOs,” he says.
Mr. Tawake says the Pacific Deep Sea Minerals Project has already undertaken a number of activities designed to inform stakeholders about the technical, legal, economic and environmental impacts of deep sea mining.
“The role of the project is to provide countries with the relevant information and advice they need to make informed decisions about deep sea mining within their national jurisdictions. I think it’s fair to say that Pacific Island countries still need to do more work to help the wider public to understand the potential benefits and impacts of any deep sea mining activities that may occur within the territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zones of these countries,” he says.
Mr. Tawake says the range of issues to be discussed at the workshop in Port Vila will range from potential employment opportunities and socio-economic impacts for Pacific Island nationals through to the need to for financial safeguards to ensure that any economic benefits derived from deep sea mining activities are used to support sustainable economic development and support community livelihoods.
Dr Jimmie Rodgers, the Director-General of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community says there is an urgent need for stakeholders and the wider community to engage in a meaningful discussion about the issues surrounding the rapidly emerging deep sea minerals sector. He believes it is critical that all interested groups collaborate in order for Pacific Island countries to avoid the same mistakes that were made in other sectors such as fisheries, logging and on-land mining.
“What SPC wants to see is that, if those resources are harvested, they’re harvested in a sustainably and environmentally friendly manner and that they’re harvested such that current generations and future generations will benefit,” he says. Dr Rodgers believes that civil society groups need to play a critical role in ensuring that Pacific Island Countries and Territories address the details of any agreements they may enter into with deep sea mining companies.
Pacific countries are being urged to protect their deep sea mineral resources as commercial interest rapidly grows in the region. One company is planning to undertake the world's first deep sea mining project in Papua New Guinea and there's growing interest elsewhere.
Jonathan Lowe from Nautilus Minerals told ONE News their initial focus is on copper, gold, zinc and silver. However extracting it from 1-2 kilometres below sea level, has always been the issue - until now.
Commercial groups are currently starting to sign up exploration licences around the region and Pacific governments are being urged to protect themselves and negotiate the best deal with interested companies
"They are making heavy investments. They are going to push very hard to get as much of the proceeds as possible," said Dr Jimmie Rodgers, Director of General South Pacific Community. "Governments need to be very clear on what it is they want to get out of this. They have to have definite milestones that are not negotiable."
The South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC) is running a project to help island nations set up systems to manage their deep sea mineral resources. Papua New Guinea's Government has been embroiled in disputes with Nautilus Minerals after it gave them a licence to mine off its coast.
The Government had agreed to pay around $75 million towards the project but after it signed a contract it decided it did not have enough information to invest. There is also concern over the environmental impact which Nautilus is adamant it's low.
"That area itself is a geologically dynamic environment; it will restore itself very quickly. The sea floor will recover in two years just from a small activity and there is no reason to think it won't be like that on a bigger scale," said Lowe.
However others aren't so sure and say more research is needed. "Look at PNG it's not even 10 to 15 years rushing the process. What's the rush? Papua New Guineans are not on life support." said Wenceslaus Magun from a local NGO.
Non-government organisations have been active in questioning the deals. "The currency for PNG is low despite the fact we have so many mining companies in the country. So what proof can you tell me that seabed mine will make a difference?"
But some Pacific Governments say deep sea mining is necessary. "We need to develop our economy so our people can benefit. Will the NGOs help our people? I say no they do nothing," said Tonga's Deputy Prime Minister Samiu Vaipulu.
Source: TVNZ - One News - http://tvnz.co.nz/world-news/interest-in-deep-sea-mining-grows-pacific-5391013
While PNG made news for being the first country in the world to issue a licence for deep-sea mining, more and more Pacific Islands countries are getting approaches from companies interested in exploration and exploitation of deep-sea minerals. The questions that arise are—what are the risks? What are the benefits? What do Pacific Islanders need to know to make the right decisions here?
Many islanders have learnt, the hard way, the consequences of not knowing what they were getting into with mining and unsustainable development—phosphate mining on Nauru perhaps being the most dramatic example of a mining boom…and then a bust. Is deep-sea mining different?Time is critical, says Dr Jimmie Rodgers, Director-General, Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC): “Is it urgent? Is it important now? Yes! Because multinationals are not going to wait to give Pacific Islands countries time to look at all the studies, environmental analysis, before they come in—they push in.”
Over 300 exploration licences have been granted in Pacific Islands countries like Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Tonga. It seems deep-sea mining promises riches and risks. In the Pacific, most of the mineral deposits considered profitable to mine are known as Seafloor Massive Sulphides (SMS). Some countries have manganese nodules and cobalt-rich crusts on the seafloor, mining of which are likely to have greater environmental impacts than SMS. For instance, nodules, small lumpy concretions that form over millions of years as metals from the seawater and seafloor sediments precipitate around a core, which may be a shark tooth or rock fragment. Nodules cover a significant area of the sea floor and contain minerals such as manganese, copper, nickel and cobalt.
Minerals are also found around hydrothermal vents—places where very hot fluid (around 400 degrees Celsius) that carries minerals comes into contact with cold sea water (around two degrees Celsius), resulting in the precipitation and deposition of minerals on the seafloor. The “chimneys” that form around the vents are the direct result of the accumulation of minerals on the seafloor over time. In most cases, the hot fluid resembles black smoke in the water column signifying the relatively metal rich fluid and resulting in their popular description as “Black Smokers”. This type of mineral deposits are known as Seafloor Massive Sulphides and are rich in copper, gold, silver, zinc and lead. Companies are now chasing these natural phenomena in the Pacific Islands region and other parts of the world ocean.
Deep-sea minerals have a use in everything from mobile phones to metal alloys, renewable energy technologies and batteries. Papua New Guinea’s Nautilus minerals venture was halted in 2012 after disagreement over government’s equity and benefits. Meanwhile, projects now go ahead in Sudan, Saudi Arabia, New Zealand and other countries. The companies and scientists are quick to point out the consequences of sea mining versus land mining are different—land mining can produce more than 99 percent waste and less than one percent ore. Waste materials when exposed for an extended period of time produce acid by the reaction of sulphide minerals with fresh water and oxygen, as well as liberated heavy metals that can pollute the environment.
From March 11-15th 2013, the Kingdom of Tonga is to host a regional workshop on “Law and Contract Negotiations for Deep Sea Minerals” in Nuku’alofa, on behalf of the SPC-EU Pacific Deep Sea Minerals Project.
The Pacific Deep Sea Minerals Project is funded by the European Union and managed by SOPAC, the Applied Geoscience & Technology Division of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community. The project includes 15 Pacific Island Countries: the Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Timor Leste, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.
Hannah Lily, Legal Adviser for the Pacific Deep Sea Minerals Project, says a main objective of the Tonga workshop is to provide government officials with the knowledge, skills and confidence to negotiate effectively with well-resourced deep sea mining companies. Ms. Lily says the Project stresses the importance for countries to put in place robust law and regulatory mechanisms for the national management of deep sea minerals before any negotiations take place.
“We strongly recommend that countries have these mechanisms in place before any individual project negotiations commence. Dedicated seabed minerals legislation will assist the country to meet its obligations under international law, such as the protection of the marine environment. It will also provide clarity and stability to that country’s operating environment and what it expects from mineral companies.”
“Seabed mineral resources represent an exciting new economic opportunity for Pacific Island States. But, in order to make the most of this opportunity, governments will need to find responsible exploration and mining companies, and work to set terms that provide sufficient protection and financial return to the country,” she says.
Ms. Lily says one of the main objectives of the Pacific Deep Sea Minerals Project is to enable countries to make informed decisions about whether or not to give out exploration and mining licences for their deep sea minerals resources.
“If those licences are issued it is critical that they contain terms that protect the country from environmental damage, protect the people from impacts on their livelihoods, and ensure a proper financial return that will be collected and managed responsibly,” she says.
Mr. Taaniela Kula, Deputy Secretary for Tonga’s Natural Resources at the Ministry of Lands, Environment, Climate Change and Natural Resources, believes the upcoming workshop will be critical for public administrators throughout the region.