Papua New Guinea Mine Watch12 June 2013
As generally reported, the Sunnylands summit between President Obama and President Xi of China this past weekend, cast “sunshine on the U.S.-China relationship.”
If this sunshine, refers to new transparency, we should take no comfort in President Xi’s declaration that, “The vast Pacific Ocean has enough space for two large countries like the United States and China.”
It is certainly bad enough that Pacific Island Countries are having enough difficulty negotiating with the larger economies over tuna stock and other island resources. Now, following President Xi’s remarks, it would seem that the “vast Pacific Ocean” is nothing but a deep vacuum that is looking to be filled by the two economic giants.
At one time seabed mining was something far off in the distance beyond the horizon, now, literally, seabed mining technology is advancing and the governments of Pacific Island Countries are handing out leases for exploratory mining in one of the most sensitive environments. The biodiversity of the deep seabeds are hardly known, but what we do know is that the deep seabed is sulphur-based and that marine life, which are oxygen-based, will be impacted by any sulphuric change to the composition of the environment. To say that an ecological disaster, following any accidents occurring in the deep seabed will be a disaster may sound like hyperbole, but the risk of ecological damage warrants governments and national and international regulatory agencies to heed the “Precautionary Approach.” as contained in Article 15 of the Rio Declaration.
The reason extractive industries are beginning to focus on the deep seabed is that it is estimated that there is an abundance of gold, silver, copper, nickle, manganese and rare-earth minerals, commodities that are in demand for many of our new electronic devices like smart phones and tablets.
Ralph Regenvanu, Minister of Lands and Natural Resources in Vanuatu, reminds us that the leading scientific thinking at present states that we need to adopt the precautionary principle when it comes to seabed mineral exploitation. To understand exactly what the precautionary principle entails for Pacific Islands countries, he recommends participants read the legal opinion about the term prepared by the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide on the website of the Pacific Network on Globalization (PANG).
Experimental Seabed mining has various approaches. Seabed extractive industries can negotiate to mine within a countries exclusive economic zone (EEZ), but due to regulatory restrictions the only country that has allowed experimental seabed mining in their EEZ has been Papua-New Guinea .
Exploration licenses can also be leased in international waters, but that is a hurdle for the U.S. since we are not a signatory of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). For the U.S. however, like transnational Aerospace and Military (and now Mining) titan Lockheed-Martin, this hurdle is proving not to be such a big problem as all they need to do is to lobby to change the Constitution of Fiji– currently being administered by an “illegal” government that took control via a military coup.
Experimental seabed mining can be stopped. In Papua New Guniea, public resistance helped to shut down the first experimental seabed mining operation run by Nautilus minerals, a Canadian mining company.
This past Monday, Minister Regenvanu, citing the UNDRIP Free, Prior and Informed Consent, announced after learning that the previous Vanuatu administration issued 145 licenses for off shore mining with the knowledge of 99 percent of the country’s population. He will be consulting with the people– the proper rightsholders– to determine whether Vanuatu wants to engage in experimental seabed mining.