This article does not go into the pros and cons of the country engaging in seabed mining, but comments on government’s process of consultation and transparency.
While Te Ipukarea Society is glad that consultations are taking place, we are concerned that this process may be more about being seen to be doing the right thing, rather than actually doing it.
The recent press release quoted the Minister for Seabed Minerals (Mark Brown) as saying he was pleased that the Cook Islands Seabed Minerals Sector Strategy Public Consultations in Rarotonga have been positive, with the majority of the public supporting the recently-developed draft Cook Islands Seabed Minerals Sector Strategy.
This is misleading on two counts. First, the draft seabed minerals strategy has not yet been released to the public for comment or review. The minister may have made a presentation based on its contents, but it would have been much more worthwhile to release the draft to the public before the consultations, so people had a chance to read it and formulate questions in advance.
The other misleading part of the press release was stating that the majority of the public were supportive of the st rategy (which they have not yet seen). In fact, the majority of responses and questions during the three public consultations raised serious concerns about the future impacts of seabed mining.
Another concern relating to the plans to tender out seabed mining exploratory licences early next year was when a closed workshop was held earlier this week with representatives from a number of interested mining companies.
It would have been far better, in the name of transparency, to allow non-government organisations (NGOs) and interested members of the public into this workshop, as observers, so they could listen to what is being offered by government, and the questions raised by the companies.
In fact, it is probable that at least some of the more responsible companies would have welcomed the opportunity to talk to members of the environmental NGO sector, to find out our concerns so they could work towards addressing them.
On a more positive note, NGOs were invited to listen to, and speak with, two consultants that government had brought to the Cook Islands.
Unfortunately, very few NGOs were able to attend. The consultants were very helpful in providing information on the conditions we may want to push government to include in the exploration licences they are planning to issue. These include the possibility that much more than five years may be needed in the exploration phase to learn more about the potential impacts on the biodiversity of the deep ocean and water column.
As an example, they mentioned that the International Seabed Authority allows up to 20 years for exploration, before mining starts, in areas beyond national jurisdiction such as the Clarion Clipperton Zone. They also explained that we could insist that exploration be in two phases, with the first having a much lower impact on the ecosystem while information is gathered about appropriate technology to minimise longer-term impacts. The second phase would be testing the mining equipment to determine whether environmental impacts can be kept to a minimum, which will help in the final decision as to whether mining should go ahead or not.
Te Ipukarea Society appreciates the fact that government is engaging with the community in consultations, but feels a higher level of transparency now will lead to less possibility for conflicts to develop in the future.
This weekly column is supplied by Te Ipukarea Society. It deals with environment and conservation matters of interest to the Cook Islands.