December 17, 2013

PIANGO (Pacific) | VANGO (Vanuatu) | CELCOR (Papua New Guinea) | Deep Sea Mining campaign (Australia)

Deep Sea Mining is not the answer to poverty alleviation for the Pacific

PACIFIC | Civil society groups across the Pacific criticise SOPAC and its development of a regional regulatory framework on deep sea mining (DSM). They argue that it facilitates and pre-empts DSM before Pacific Island communities have had the opportunity to debate whether this is a form of development they want.

Last week the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) funded by the EU held its 4th Deep Sea Minerals Regional Training Workshop in Fiji. The workshop was jointly organised by Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) and focused on “the Environmental Perspectives of Deep Sea Mineral Activities”.

Laisa Vereti, Pacific Islands Association of on-Government organisations (PIANGO) said, “The EU funded SOPAC DSM project needs to have a clear process and mechanism in place. Our pacific governments lack the capacity and expertise to go into this new venture. Countries need to put proper legislation and regulation in place to safe guard their resources and the well being of their people before even thinking of engaging in this new industry.”

The workshop brought together civil society, Pacific Island Government Representatives and DSM mining companies. The scientific experts confirmed that little is still known about deep sea environments and there is much speculation about the extent and nature of the impacts of deep sea mining.

The discussion at the SOPAC meeting was sometimes tense as industry and government were confronted by some difficult truths about the deficiencies in Environmental Impact Assessments and the serious gaps in capacity to manage environmental issues.

Thomas Imal, Lawyer with the Centre for Environmental Law & Community Rights (CELCOR) said, “The PNG Government has put the cart before the horse by issuing Nautilus Minerals Solwara 1 mining licence without adequate and independent scientific studies, or comprehensive national policy, laws and regulations for DSM[1].”

“To date the PNG Government has ignored the concerns of communities and other stakeholders. This has been the cause of a strong backlash from PNG society culminating in the threat of a legal challenge.”

“Whilst DSM maybe a viable option for other Pacific Island states it is not the same for Papua New Guinea. We need to apply the Precautionary Principle[2], the uncertainties far out weight the benefits and it is not beneficial for the country at this time.”

In stark contrast to the PNG Government, the Vanuatu Government is embarking on a national deep sea mining consultation process. Under the oversight of the Hon. Ralph Regenvanu, Minister for Land and Natural Resources, the Vanuatu national consultations aim to model best practice Public Participation in Deep Sea Mining Decision-Making.

Charlie Timpoloa Harrison, Interim CEO, Vanuatu Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (VANGO) said, “It is paramount that our people fully understand what DSM is before we develop any policy, review any mining legislation or, for that matter, develop any new legislation. All policy and legislation amendments have to involve civil society participation at the core of these national undertakings.”

“This Vanuatu process will draw on the principles and approaches embedded in Free Prior and Informed Consent[3] and the Precautionary Principle. It will be open and transparent and will ensure that if any licences are awarded it is with the consent of Vanuatu’s civil society and on the basis of independently verified science-based risk assessments.”

Dr. Helen Rosenbaum, coordinator, Deep Sea Mining campaign said, “SOPAC is actively promoting DSM as the Pacific Panacea – the answer to poverty alleviation throughout the Pacific. However the truth is somewhat different. Many Pacific countries already have significant mining projects but still lack basic infrastructure, and good health and education systems. DSM will not be a quick.”



Laisa Vereti, PIANGO secretariat Phone: +679 8352667, laisa[at]

Thomas Imal, Lawyer, CELCOR, Papua New Guinea +675 3234509, timal07[at]

Charlie Timpoloa Harrison, Interim CEO, VANGO, Vanuatu, +678 5908488 / 7738882, charlietimpoloahrrsn[at] or vangosec[at]

Dr. Helen Rosenbaum, Deep Sea Mining Campaign, Australia, +61 413 201 793, hrose[at]



1. Deep sea mining is new form of mining with a high level of uncertainty about the risks it poses to marine environments and communities. What is certain is that impacts will be associated with each step of the mining process. The Deep Sea mining campaign’s two comprehensive reports highlight many errors and omissions in the Solwara 1 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). This means that we don’t yet understand the risks posed to coastal communities.

2. The Precautionary Principle

The United Nations World Charter For Nature (1982) states that:
activities which are likely to pose a significant risk to nature shall be preceded by an exhaustive examination; their proponents shall demonstrate that expected benefits outweigh potential damage to nature, and where potential adverse effects are not fully understood, the activities should not proceed.

Unlike later interpretations, this definition of the PP prioritises the protection of the well being of communities and the environment. It clearly identifies that the developer bears responsibility for proving that a development it is not harmful. Implicit in this principle is the social responsibility to protect the public from exposure to harm, when scientific investigation has found a plausible risk.

3. Free Prior and Informed Consent

FPIC is recognized in many international law instruments. Of these, the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP, 2007) provides one of the clearest articulations of FPIC. Its key elements are defined as:

Free – Consent is free from force, intimidation, manipulation, coercion or pressure by any government or company.

Prior – Consent is obtained prior to government authorisations, allocation of exploration permits, operating licences etc.

Informed – all the relevant information must be presented to communities and civil society in an accurate, and accessible manner independent of vested interests

Consent – requires that communities and civil society have the right to say “Yes” or “No” to the project in accordance with community decision-making processes and at each stage of a project. It means that civil society can withhold consent or can determine the conditions for consent if it is given.