Region cautioned about risks, pitfalls

Samoa and the Pacific region have been warned about the risks and pitfalls of deep sea mining for Pacific peoples in light of governments’ inadequate regulatory frameworks. The warning comes in a report by international law firm, Blue Ocean Law (B.O.L.) and Fiji-based regional non-governmental organisation, Pacific Network on Globalisation (P.A.N.G.).

Titled “Resource Roulette: How Deep Sea Mining and Inadequate Regulatory Frameworks Imperil the Pacific and its Peoples”, the report is an independent legal and policy analysis of the deep sea mining (D.S.M.) legislation of 14 Pacific Island nations, and includes in-depth case studies of D.S.M. in Tonga, Papua New Guinea, and Fiji.

 “The report examines not only the absence of requisite indigenous rights and environmental protections in existing legislation, but the capacity of Pacific Islands to implement and enforce laws purporting to regulate deep sea mining,” says Attorney Julian Aguon of B.O.L.

Insights gleaned from months of fieldwork and interviews with various commentators and experts have revealed that many countries are vastly under-resourced in terms of policing D.S.M. activities in their waters. 

As a result, notes B.O.L. Attorney Julie Hunter, countries who undertake D.S.M. at this early, experimental stage, risk incurring great environmental and social harms likely to affect indigenous and coastal communities. 

Moreover, Pacific countries may garner little to no revenue, and in some cases, actually lose money from expenses associated with D.S.M., including high-risk equity investments and costly environmental clean-up, as well as arbitration and other legal proceedings.

The report also documents impacts from exploratory D.S.M. on P.I. nations’ fisheries and tourism sectors, which have already been felt in places like Tonga and P.N.G. 

These impacts are compounded by the failure to obtain the free, prior, and informed consent (F.P.I.C.) of indigenous peoples and other affected communities, and represent the opposite of a precautionary approach to hazardous industrial ventures -- both required under international law.

 “Countries in the region, particularly in Melanesia, have been rushing into agreements with mining companies without bothering to consult with or obtain the F.P.I.C. of indigenous peoples or affected groups,” says P.A.N.G. coordinator Maureen Penjueli. 

This rush to mine is largely a result of pressure from industry and foreign governments, and has resulted in legislative frameworks favourable to mining operators, which minimise the risks of D.S.M. and lack enforceable human rights and environmental provisions.

Given the high number of poorly regulated, unprofitable terrestrial mines in the region, Pacific countries are advised to adopt the cautious approach exemplified by a growing number of countries, including New Zealand, Mexico, and Australia, and enact moratoria on D.S.M. until comprehensive scientific studies can be done on the deep ocean ecosystem.

The B.O.L.-P.A.N.G. report has been published by the University of the South Pacific and is available on the online library catalogue. The report can also be accessed from the B.O.L. and P.A.N.G. websites.

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