Thursday 16 August 2012
Civil Society highlights SOPACs corruption of the precautionary principle and questions EU support for a reckless approach to development that would be unacceptable in its own member countries.
Civil society in the Pacific voiced their concern about SOPAC Director Russell Howarth's misrepresentation of the intent of the precautionary principle during the Rio+20 meeting in June this year. In his speech at Rio, Howarth revealed that his priority is to promote the interests of foreign mining companies at the expense of communities and the marine ecosystems on which they rely.
The precautionary principle places the onus on developers to prove that harm will not occur to communities or ecosystems prior to a development gaining approval. The principle requires that a development would not proceed in the face of insufficient understanding about its impacts. In contrast, SOPAC's head advocates that the lack of scientific information about impacts should not be used as a reason for postponing deep sea mining projects.
Dr. Helen Rosenbaum, campaign coordinator for the Deep Sea Mining campaign in Australia and author of Out of Our Depth: Mining the Ocean Floor in Papua New Guinea said, SOPAC's director essentially agrees with us that there's insufficient scientific data about the impacts of deep sea mining. However, that's where we part company.
We call for full understanding about impacts before exploration or exploitation of deep sea mineral resources is permitted. Howarth on the other hand entirely ignores his duty of care to Pacific communities. He's willing to sacrifice their well being for perceived profits. And who will benefit from those profits?
If the deep sea mining test case, Solwara 1 in PNG, is anything to go by then very little benefit will accrue to the communities who will be affected by the project - $5 in every $1000 earned by the company.
The European Union is funding SOPAC's drive to develop a regulatory system for sea bed mining in the Pacific. The EU's Communication on the Precautionary Principle describes a rigorous risk assessment process that strives to provide a high level of protection to humans and the environment.
Phil McCabe from Kiwis against Seabed Mining (KASM) asked how can the EU fund a regulatory system in the Pacific underpinned by the reckless approach advocated by SOPAC. It's entirely at odds with the European Union's Precautionary Principle's thorough risk analysis process.
It's also at odds with the UN Oceans Compact launched by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon at the Law of the Sea Conference in Korea on the 12th August 2012.
According to Kerry Tetzlaff , law lecturer at the University of the South Pacific, the Pacific needs to proceed with a high degree of caution due to scientific and technological uncertainty, lack of institutional and regulatory frameworks, and issues with transparency, accountability as well as enforcement capacity.
Ms Tetzlaff, who is also Member of the IUCN Commission on Environmental Law further states, the stakes are high both for the environment and the future of Pacific Islanders. It could be argued that an even higher degree of caution should be exercised than in similar circumstances in the developed world.