More public input needed before mining

Monday May 19, 2014 Published in Letters to the Editor
Dr Kifle Kahsai (left), sitting beside Deputy Prime Minister Teariki Heather, said the deep sea minerals sector is still very much in its early days. 14051308 Dr Kifle Kahsai (left), sitting beside Deputy Prime Minister Teariki Heather, said the deep sea minerals sector is still very much in its early days. 14051308

Dear Editor, We should all seriously consider the SPC’s Chief Geoscientist Dr Kifle Kahsai’s warning about seabed mining.

This was reported in CINews recently, where he advised that “historically, mining has negative connotations due to the risks of adverse social and environment impacts, as well as poor mining revenue management associated with some land-basing mining operations”.

He also warned that the Cook Islands government should make sure that revenues generated by seabed minerals must improve the livelihoods of our people, if we decide to go ahead and exploit our manganese nodule resources.

Before we talk about governance issues and how to distribute the benefits, let's ask the most important question: Do we need to rush into exploiting our seabed minerals?

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We should first ask our people what they want. We didn’t elect this government to make major decisions like this for us. For large projects like this proposed seabed mineral exploitation, government needs to go back to our people, present them with all the facts, both the benefits and the likely social and environmental costs, including examples of similar projects carried out elsewhere in the world, and let our people decide.

We have been told that the Seabed Minerals Authority (SMA) has done some community consultation, but it is clear that this is not enough.  Our people don’t really know what he likely impacts will be.  They have been told about the likely billions of dollars of revenues, but not the costs.

What we need is an independent assessment of what our people want, carried out by a team of both international and local experts and NGOs, not conducted by the SMA, who may have a conflict of interest. The SMA is focused on the billions of dollars of revenues that may be generated.

Let’s look at this in broader terms.

We need to ask our people: Do they want large, foreign, multinational companies to explore these resources at the risk of our ocean environment? What are the likely significant social and environmental impacts and challenges? Are we willing to commit our economic, environmental and social future to this risky venture? Should we be committing our future generations to this?

Our ancestors treaded softy on our environment and put our people first. Let’s not rush into this new venture; let’s wait for some other country to try seabed mining, watch what happens, and learn from their mistakes. What’s the rush?

We are not a poor country. We are blessed with these beautiful islands, lagoons, ocean, resourceful people, our lands and our vibrant culture. Our people have successfully developed a thriving tourism industry through entrepreneurship and hard work. We didn’t need foreign multinational companies to do this for us. We have our fisheries resources, black pearls and agriculture. Maybe this is enough. Maybe it’s not all about money.

Wednesday night at the public meeting on seabed minerals, after long presentations by the CI Seabed Minerals Authority and the SPC, members of the public made it clear that they are very concerned about the Government pushing for exploration of our mineral resources. Not one person voiced support for the project, and it was clear that people want to have a lot more discussion.

Unfortunately, no-one was ready to ask questions of the expert panel, since it was clear that people want the government to listen to their concerns and not rush into deep sea mining. An SPC expert confirmed that in the case of any environmental disaster, the Cook Islands Government (and therefore the Cook Islands people) will ultimately be responsible and liable for any costs.

We were also told by the Seabed Minerals Commissioner that the Cook Islands Government, in partnership with a Belgian mining company, has applied for an exploration license from the International Seabed Authority (ISA) for resources outside of our EEZ. The decision is due in July. He said that the Belgian company would cover all the exploration costs.

What we don’t know is who this Belgian mining company is; what is their record in exploitation of mineral resources elsewhere in the world, and what will they expect in return? What is the Cook Islands government giving away in exchange for this? Do our people know about this, and have they been consulted on this matter?

Planning for our Marae Moana, or Marine Park, has only just begun. When the initial announcement was made nearly two years ago, everyone thought this was a great conservation commitment to management of marine resources. However, now we are faced with fisheries and minerals exploitation issues within our EEZ and clearly need to plan for all these proposed activities.

There are many questions and issues that still need to be explored. Let’s request the international community to support rigorous research into the likely social, environment and financial costs of deep sea mining, help us undertake independent consultation with our people, and listen to what they want.  Then let’s have a referendum to decide whether to go forward, or not.

Let our People Decide

(Name and address supplied)

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