Posts Tagged ‘Experimental Seabed Mining’

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IN the clamour of nations frantically vying to make their voice heard at the gargantuan Rio+20 Earth Summit, it’s almost certain the Pacific will remain a drop in the ocean.

Yet a small group of Pacific women consider the environmental issues in the region so critical that they have made the long trip to Brazil to represent the Liquid Continent regardless.

The 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development, held 20 years after the seminal original Rio Earth Summit in 1992, opened today and is billed as “an unprecedented opportunity to build the future we want”.

‘The future’, as we know from Copenhagen, is hammered out in summit deals palatable to the power-broker nations, while the voices of small island nations on the frontline of multiple environmental crises get swallowed in the feeding frenzy.

But that hasn’t stopped Maureen Penjeuli, Noelene Nabulivou and Rosa Koian from trying.

Representing civil society organisations (CSOs) from Fiji and Papua New Guinea, these women have been campaigning hard inside and outside summit conference rooms to make the Pacific an issue.

“We wanted to put the Pacific at the centre of the debate,” Koian, a coordinator at PNG CSO Bismarck Ramu Group, said. “The Pacific sometimes gets forgotten, but the reality is our region is at the forefront of some of the most pressing environmental issues in the world right now.”

Indeed, while the myriad Rio speeches and press conferences take place, the Pacific’s unique ecologies are fighting urgent challenges.

The region is home to some of the most pristine and biodiverse flora and fauna in the world, but an influx of foreign extractive industry activity threatens these. In PNG, 10% of customary land has been stolen or leased for commercial purposes – often without landowner consent – almost overnight.

This landgrab is also robbing livelihoods in other Pacific nations at a pace that could destroy not only the environment, but thousands of years of diverse traditional cultures and lifestyles, within a generation.

“We have to go back to the roots of poverty – where did that come from?” Koian said. “If we look at how masses are now left in such a poor state, it’s because they’re landless. If we compare these landless people to Papua New Guineans, most of whom still own their customary land, we can safely say those people who have land are more free than those who do not.

“So if we want to achieve a level of poverty reduction, we have to return a lot of the stolen land to indigenous people.”

The Pacific’s environmental battleground is not just being fought on land. Even the seas are being targeted for exploitation, as predatory mining companies seek to make the region a guinea pig for Experimental Seabed Mining (ESM). The Pacific delegation has been hitting the streets to bring the ESM protest to global attention, spearheaded by Penjueli from Fiji’s Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG) and Noelene Nabulivou, a Pacific representative in the Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN) global network.

“Our message to our governments remains strong – we the people reject experimental seabed mining in the Pacific,” Penjueli said. “What is needed in Rio is a strategic refusal by small island states and allies to participate in this false development course”.

The Cook Islands, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Marshall Islands, Fiji and Kiribati are all targeted for ESM. Canada’s Nautilus Minerals wants to start shipping copper from the seafloor off the coast of PNG by 2013.

“In allowing essential ecosystems to be mined, we are part of a global industrialization process that views the environment as a means to profit, with environmental degradation, social exploitation, biodiversity loss, and violence as its consequence,” Penjueli said.

Koian admits she feels like a small fish in a big ocean. But that’s just the point, she said.

“As the Pacific, we have our problems, we have our strengths, we have our weaknesses, we have our ways,” she said.

“Together we’re going to ask world governments, if they are really serious about sustainable development, they have to re-think a development model that best fits all the different groups that exist in this planet. Because we cannot talk about a one-size fits all model.”

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We hit rockbottom in the Pacific last week.

Or at least James Cameron did. The Avatar director’s sub touched down about 11km below the surface at the ocean’s deepest known point, south-west of Guam (reminding us of how foolish it is to be contemplating mining something we know so little about).

There was also a sense that the O’Neill Government hit rockbottom last week.

It was not only the Judicial Conduct Bill 2012 itself, but PM O’Neill’s deeply patronising public response that caused outrage among many Papua New Guineans.

Resentment building after weeks of political scandal after political scandal – most linked to the incorrigible Belden Namah – boiled over when O’Neill used his televised address to pretend the judiciary bill was in the public’s interest, not his own.

People saw through the bullshit and, inspired by the example of the UPNG students, took to Facebook to vent their disgust. Discussion boards like Sharp Talk remain filled with condemnation of the bill and the MPs who passed it. UPNG protest leader Nou Vada has become an overnight hero.

We have taken ownership of this debate. By doing so, ordinary Papua New Guineans have shown O’Neill that he cannot make laws in our name, without our consent.

This is the sort of noble outrage that has been absent in PNG for too long. We have been far too patient with self-serving governments, lazily hoping we’ll get a better deal at the next election.

That apathy comes home to roost in places like Josephstaal, a Middle Ramu community in inland Madang I visited last week.

Josephstaal is wonderfully self-sufficient, but it has been neglected by government after government. Its road is in ruins – I know, because I trekked through it, up to my knees in tais, over the weekend. I had to, because the airstrip is also not fit for planes to fly in and out of.

Transporting supplies to and from Josephstaal is an impossible task. It doesn’t have to be that way, though – the road from nearby village Guam is in great condition. The only difference is its kiap is presumably less corrupt.

Josephstaal is the sort of place the government should be supporting, not neglecting. Give the Josephstaals of PNG better roads and our cities would be flooded with food. ‘Food insecurity’ is a lie the government tells to get more Australian aid money.

But last week, Papua New Guineans began questioning those lies. And O’Neill is listening.

This is an election year, remember. Convince O’Neill that we’ll rausim over this bill, and he WILL repeal it.

If this is the sort of outcome possible when Papua New Guineans express their anger, I say PNG can’t get to the bottom fast enough.