In our first blog entry last year „Journey into the unknown“ we discussed how little is actually known on the impacts of the „first deep-sea mining Solwara 1, which aims to mine the Bismark seabed for high grade copper and gold, in Papua New Guinea by Nautilus Minerals, a Canadian company“.
Now the EU and SPC have published a so-called assessment on the costs of benefits of mining deep-sea minerals in PNG. Papua New Guinea Mine Watch writes in their blog: The
„new report claiming the money to be made from experimental seabed mining in PNG far outweighs the costs. Unfortunately the expensive report:
Fails to put a monetary value on many of the potential environmental costs
Fails to deal with the fact billions of dollars in mining revenues have already FAILED to improve the lives of ordinary people in PNG
Fails to acknowledge the past failure of PNG authorities to manage land based mining and its terrible social and environmental impacts
Assumes, totally against the evidence, that any environmental damage will be fixed by the mining company.“
During the flight to Indonesia in the beginning of December 2015 I read in my diving magazine Unterwasser about Bangka Island in the North of Sulawesi: Beautiful and diverse coral reefs just outside the famous Bunaken National Marine Park – less known, but very much worth going, especially if you enjoy small island life and would like to explore dive sites where hardly anybody has dived before. This tiny island of only 48 sq km is a hotspot of biodiversity. Perfect conditions for community-based ecotourism and conservation work how it is implemented in the South of Sulawesi by Wakatobi Dive Resort since more than 20 years already. Unfortunately the reefs are not the only natural resource found in the region.
“PT Mikgro Metal Perdana (MMP), an Indonesian subsidiary of Hong Kong based Aempire Resource Group, has been seeking licenses to extract iron ore from Bangka since 2008” (The Guardian, 3 April 2015). Even though a ruling of Indonesia’s Supreme Court in 2013 blocked further mining activities on Bangka the former Minister for Energy and Minerals, Jero Wacik, granted the exploitation license covering two-thirds of the island in 2014. Since then construction of mining and transportation infrastructure is causing direct demolition of reefs as well as indirect destruction via run-offs and waste products. The support campaign for the little diving heaven started immediately, but hasn’t been able to put a halt to the mining activities yet (read more on activism and diving around Bangka on Dive Advisor).
This case in the country where we hope to stay for 2016 or longer not only brought together my two passions, diving and activism, but combined the issue of marine protection with the topic that kept me pretty busy in 2015. After we came back from St. Eustatius in June I started researching the global impact of European trade and investment policy on exploitation of raw materials for PowerShift e.V. and the campaign Stop Mad Mining. Finally the study has been published! In German though: Alles für uns!? Der globale Einfluss der europäischen Handels- und Investitionspolitik auf Rohstoffausbeutung. Even though the EU calls her newest trade and investment strategy “Trade for all” it is clearly in the interest of big European corporations while democratic, sustainable, transparent and fair concepts of governing the natural resources from civil societies as well as Governments in resource rich countries are undermined.
Local populations are the ones who are most likely to lose everything: Their land, their intact (marine) ecosystems, their livelihood, and their future. “Bangka Island’s 2700 residents make their living fishing, tending coconut and cashew plantations, and catering to a growing tourism trade based on the coral reef. Residents are virtually united in their rejection of the mine, concerned it will threaten coral reefs and diminish fishing yields” (Inside Indonesia, April-June 2014). Mining doesn’t bring jobs or economic development to the region – or in this case island. In most cases local populations are not profiting from the infrastructure or getting any sort of revenue of mining projects. The Indonesian government tried to increase the national benefits of their natural resources, but rolled new mining law in 2014 when Newmount Mining used the ISDS mechanism (investor-state dispute settlement) of a Bilateral Investment Treaty to sue Indonesia for compensation (Hilde van der Pas and Riza Damanik): “The case of Newmont Mining vs Indonesia is a powerful example of how investment agreements, particularly Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs), are used by companies to get exemptions from government regulations and legislation, undermining democracy and development.”
ISDS is a corporate weapon against public policies worldwide and is used to discipline states once a foreign corporation has invested in a country which signed BITs. But in the case of Bangka there was actually an Indonesian law prior to granting the exploitation license which prohibits mining on islands smaller than 2,000 sq km. Inside Indonesia writes: “Only weeks after the re-zoning, in December 2013, the Indonesian parliament revised Law no. 27/2007 to allow large-scale extractive industry investment on five small islands previously protected by small island conservation provisions – including Bangka. The revision was enacted very quietly.” Money talks, one could think. And in another mining case in Indonesia there is actually proof.
During that same flight I read about a corruption case that would be debated in Indonesia in December 2015: “The speaker of the House of Representatives, Setya Novanto, stood accused of trying to extort $4 billion in shares from the local unit of the American mining giant Freeport-McMoRan” (The New York Times, 17 December 2015). The operation license for the company’s Grasberg mine is ending in 2021. The controversial project in the East of Indonesia is the world’s largest gold mine and third-largest copper mine (collection on Grasberg mine by the London Mining Network). Mining friendly decisions on all levels are contrasting to the attempts to increase (eco and diving) tourism in the country. Digging and diving is a bad match.
Or so I thought: A couple of weeks later on a diving boat in Komodo National Park I met an engineer who is working in the Grasberg mine. Strangely enough his holiday love affair was a NGO campaigner from Peru who needed a little break from fighting to keep roads, illegal settlements and the oil industry out of natural and indigenous reserves.
For self-awareness and personal development highly recommendable, for exploiting the ocean maybe not so much.
Even though the deep-sea floor is „the most abundant habitat type on Earth. And we know almost nothing about it.“ Conservation International is pointing out the environmental threats of this new underwater hype.
As Deep-sea mining is becoming technically available claims have been made: „Since 2001, the ISA has granted 26 of these contracts covering more than 1 million square kilometers [386,000 square miles] of seabed. Eighteen of them were granted in the last four years“ (Opportunity, calamity in the balance amid plans to mine the deep sea by Molly Bergen). Dr. Jack Kittinger, director of Conservation International’s Hawai‘i program, wants the International Seabed Authority to „establish regional networks of no-mining marine protected areas (MPAs) in all the places where they are licensing mining contracts — and we are urging them to do this before mining starts.“
A very honarable goal (details in Science), though we have to admit that we are not expecting companies to share Dr. Jack Kittinger’s understanding of MPAs as „a win-win for both the planet and the reputation of the countries and companies involved in mining.“
The first deep-sea mining Solwara 1, which aims to mine the Bismark seabed for high grade copper and gold, in Papua New Guinea by Nautilus Minerals, a Canadian company, stays highly controversial. Papua New Guineans are far from happy about the project and are calling for it to ban experimental deep sea mining while the company is downplaying the risks.