New ‘Resource Roulette’ report exposes deep-sea mining risks for Pacific

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By Julie Hunter

International law firm Blue Ocean Law and the Fiji-based regional non-governmental organisation Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG) have released a report detailing the risks and pitfalls of deep sea mining for Pacific peoples in light of governments’ inadequate regulatory frameworks.

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 (DSM) legislation of 14 Pacific Island nations, and includes in-depth case studies of DSM in Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Tonga.

“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,” said attorney Julian Aguon of Blue Ocean Law (BOL).

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 DSM activities in their waters.

As a result, countries which undertook DSM at this early, experimental stage, risked 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 DSM, including high-risk equity investments and costly environmental clean-up, as well as arbitration and other legal proceedings.

Nautilus’s prospective DSM sites in Tonga’s EEZ
Nautilus’s prospective deep sea mining sites in Tonga’s EEZ. Map: Resource Roulette report

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The report also documents impacts from exploratory DSM on PI nations’ fisheries and tourism sectors, which have already been felt in countries like PNG and Tonga.

Consent failure
These impacts are compounded by the failure to obtain the free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) 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 FPIC of indigenous peoples or affected groups,” said PANG 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 DSM 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 a cautious approach exemplified by a growing number of countries, including Australia, New Zealand and Mexico, and enact moratoria on DSM until comprehensive scientific studies can be done on the deep ocean ecosystem.

The BOL-PANG report has been published by the University of South Pacific and is available on the online library catalogue.

The report can also be accessed from the BOL and PANG websites.

It is anticipated that the report will serve as a useful tool for indigenous communities, civil society organisations, and governments currently facing the prospect of DSM in their waters.

This report was developed by Blue Ocean Law (BOL) and the Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG).

Resource Roulette – the full BOL-PANG report

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