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Precautionary Management of Deep Sea Mining Potential in Pacific Island Countries

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A new World Bank report recommends that Pacific Island countries supporting or considering deep sea mining activities proceed with a high degree of caution to avoid irreversible damage to the ecosystem, and ensure that appropriate social and environmental safeguards are in place as part of strong governance arrangements for this emerging industry.

Deep sea exploration of minerals and resources is increasing across the globe, but its short and long-term impacts on the environment, economy and society in general remain largely unknown, according to the report, Pacific Possible: Precautionary Management of Deep Sea Mining Potential in Pacific Island Countries.

“Given the immense uncertainty, deep sea mining in Pacific Island countries should be approached with the highest degree of caution and transparency,” said Tijen Arin, Senior Environmental Economist and co-author of the paper. “Work in this space is already progressing in many countries, and progress has been made in legislation, but strengthening and increasing institutional capacity still remains a significant challenge and therefore we recommend stronger regional cooperation in this area.”

Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu have granted permits for deep sea mining exploration, and the Cook Islands recently undertook a minerals exploration tender process. So far, Papua New Guinea is the only country in the Pacific region to have granted a license for ocean floor mining, through the Solwara 1 Project.

The report, released for public comment today, takes stock of what is known and unknown about deep sea mining – its costs, impacts and potential revenue – and highlights the need to develop both the evidence base for informed decisions and appropriate governance structures.

“Natural resources belong to a country’s citizens and if mining does occur, those resources should lead to economic growth and social development,” said Franz Drees-Gross, World Bank Country Director for Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste and the Pacific Islands. “We hope this comprehensive paper will help Pacific Island governments to identify information gaps around deep sea mining, build the necessary institutional and professional capacities and ensure sustainable outcomes.”

The report was launched at a joint Pacific Community (SPC) and World Bank event in Suva, and takes into account work already undertaken in this area by the Pacific Community’s Geoscience Division. The report is the first of seven in the World Bank’s Pacific Possible series, which looks at potentially transformative opportunities for Pacific Island countries that warrant further research, understanding and policy action. The series aim to inform governments and stakeholders on planning and long-term decision-making.

(Text of World Bank Press Release on 28 April 2016 Urging Caution in Deep Sea Mining)