The Pacific region represents an area of strategic importance for European Union and is of critical importance for global sustainability. Rich in natural resources, including both terrestrial and deep marine mineral resources, it is also an area with strong cultural heritage, countless languages and a wide diversity of traditional ways of life and live customs.
The diverse mining history of the Pacific countries is paved with success as well as mistakes, including dramatic examples of failed development (Nauru) and environmental disasters (Ok Tedi in PNG). The development of the mining industry can be seen as a significant economic opportunity for the Pacific countries, but also as a major source of risks of environmental and social damage, and of societal change. Particularly, with the emerging potential of deep sea mining, new issues and challenges appear, and innovative ways must be found to grow the mining industry in a way that fosters harmonious development of local areas and ensures an equitable consideration between environmental and social costs and economic benefits.
To facilitate scientific and technical cooperation between Europe and the Pacific and the emerging of innovative proposals to address these challenges, from 8 to 9 December 2014 the National Center for Technological Research (CNRT, New Caledonia) together with Land Care Research (New Zealand) and with European Commission support, organized a think-tank on the theme of “Reconciling mining and the sustainable development in the Pacific countries”.
Three sub-topics were discussed: Enhancing environmental consideration in (terrestrial) mining while answering societal needs; Increasing knowledge on deep-sea mining environmental and social impacts, and; Mining industry and corporate social responsibility as a vector of societal innovation.
Some sixty experts (scientists, senior government officers, lawyers, policy makers, industry as well as civil society representatives) from the Pacific (Australia, Fiji, Cook Islands, Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, Federated States of Micronesia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga), Europe (Germany, France) and Canada, actively contributed to the meeting.
After constructive discussions, the participants selected a number of priority research areas highlighting:
- The need to strengthen governance and regulation of mining activities and create financial mechanisms to assure offsets, decommissioning and “after-mining” in local economies;
- The necessity of mining project disclosures and systematic integration of communities into the decision-making process during the entire project life-cycle of mines;
- The urgent need to consolidate regional databases and to enhance knowledge access and sharing (regional resource center) on natural and human environment and to develop suitable methodologies for risks assessment (comprising cumulative and trans-boundary risks and impacts), and;
- The need for supporting innovative and green technology transfer to facilitate the development of mining projects on a sustainable basis.
Seven new project ideas designed to address these priorities were outlined. These project concepts were based on cooperation between the European and Pacific partners present over the 2 days. As always with PACE-Net Plus, relationships were formed and paths opened up for new networks with future potential.
Lastly, the participants drafted recommendations that will inform regional and bi-regional political dialogues on scientific and technical cooperation and innovation, to be encouraged by PACE-Net Plus with the main research players and decision-makers.
The outcomes of the think-tank were presented at the bi-regional dialogue held in Auckland on 10 and 11 December 2014.