DG Sheppard's Opening Remarks to the Pacific ACP States 4th Regional Training Workshop "Environmental Perspectives of Deep Sea Mineral Activities"
Director, Fiji Mineral Resources Department), Mr Malakai Finau
Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Local Government and Environment, Fiji, Mr Samuela Namosimalua
Excellencies and distinguished representatives of Pacific Island Countries and Territories
Heads of Organizations, private sector, community groups and networks
Delegates to this workshop, ladies and gentlemen
It is a great pleasure to provide some opening remarks on behalf of SPREP - the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme - to this important workshop.
At the outset, I would like to thank the Government of Fiji for hosting this week's workshop and I would like to thank SPC-SOPAC for close collaboration in workshop planning.
SPREP is the regional organisation for the environment and sustainable development. We have been working in the Pacific region for 40 years, with the last 20 as an independent, intergovernmental agency.
Our work is focused on supporting our 21 Pacific island member countries and territories in 4 key, cross cutting areas: biodiversity and ecosystem management; environmental monitoring and governance; waste management and pollution; and climate change.
SPREP operates under the SPREP Convention which came into force on 20 June 1993.
We are also the repository for two other Conventions.
Firstly, the Waigani Convention, dealing with the transboundary movement of waste in our region, and secondly the Noumea Convention, dealing with the protection and management of Pacific marine resources.
For our workshop this week, the Noumea Convention, Article 8, relating to Pollution from Seabed Activities, and Article 16, relating to Environmental Impact Assessment, are particularly relevant.
SPREP is pleased that our change management process over the last 4 years has more than doubled the level of financial and technical support to Pacific island members over the last few years.
We will continue and accelerate this support.
A key element of our change management process is better partnerships with agencies that share our objectives in the Pacific. In particular we have strengthened our work with our sister Regional CROP agencies.
We are thus very happy to be jointly convening this workshop with SPC-SOPAC this week. This workshop has been delivered to you through a team effort.
Myself and many other persons in this room have just come from the largest biodiversity conference in the history of our region, the 9th Nature Conservation and Protected Areas Conference, held in Suva last week, with more than 800 persons participating.
Conference participants were honored to hear keynote addresses from the Honorable President and the Hon Prime Minister of Fiji.
Both addresses noted that a healthy and well managed environment is essential for sustainable development and livelihoods in our region.
They also emphasized that communities must be put at the centre of efforts to conserve and better manage our environment.
Last weeks' conference heard that the terrestrial and marine biodiversity in the Pacific region is of global significance with high endemism and species biodiversity. For example, 7% of the planet's biodiversity is located within Papua New Guinea, even though it represents 0.6% of the global land area.
However our biodiversity is highly at risk.
Extinction rates in the region are among the highest in the world, particularly for some groups of species such as birds, freshwater fish, land snails and reptiles.
In our region we rightly hear a great deal about the major challenges of a changing climate and the crisis of NCDs or non communicable diseases, such as obesity and blood pressure.
The loss of biodiversity is also a crisis, with long lasting consequences for sustainable development and livelihoods in our region.
Climate change is also a major challenge and Pacific Leaders have consistently raised this as the major issue facing our region. As the President of Kiribati has so eloquently stated: "in our region, climate change is a matter of national security".
At last weeks conference there was a great deal of discussion about Deep Sea Bed Mining and many concerns were expressed about the potential environmental impacts of this activity.
It is important that we hear and address these concerns during the course of this workshop.
There are many uncertainties and unknowns in the deep ocean and we must all act with a precautionary approach, and ensure we have policies and systems up front to safeguard our environment, to safeguard our people, and to safeguard our marine resources.
The peoples of the Pacific islands continue to be fundamentally dependant on the natural resources that occur in great abundance, both on land and, particularly in the coastal waters and marine environments of the Pacific Ocean.
SPREP recognizes it is more important than ever to work with Pacific Island countries to manage this wealth of marine resources for the future, taking an integrated approach to allow multiple resource use in a balanced, harmonious and sustainable way.
Regarding Deep Sea Bed Mining what we need is a balanced approach and a clear direction forward as the Pacific region.
Deep Sea Bed Minerals provide a resource challenge that needs a collaborative and innovative Pacific response, just as the Parties to the Nauru Agreement have progressed a Pacific way forward for management of Tuna resources.
We see this weeks' workshop as making an important contribution to the on-going discussion on this issue, particularly in enhancing opportunities for cross sector discussion and engagement on aspects of Deep Sea Mineral development.
What then are some of the key issues and how should we move forward ?
Firstly, the lack of information is of concern.
We know that mining companies are very keen to sign up exploration leases in the EEZ's of Pacific countries and also in the high seas.
At the same time there is concern that very little is known about the biodiversity and natural resources of the deep sea in the Pacific and that deep sea bed mining has potentially irreversible impact.
The studies undertaken indicate the level of species richness in the deep sea is very high.
Certain areas appear to be significant for their marine biodiversity, including seamounts and hydro-thermal vents. We understand that marine biodiversity is highest between the depths of 1,500 and 3,000 metres.
It is critically important that key areas of marine biodiversity are identified and effectively managed and protected as Marine Protected Areas.
This is essential for a resilient Pacific future.
There is currently so much that isn't known. A study of seamounts indicated that one-third of the species were new to science.
So it's likely that the more studies that are undertaken, the more new species will be discovered.
Thus a key message is the need to strengthen the collection of relevant marine environmental data, to help Pacific countries know what they are managing and the likely impacts of activities such as Deep Sea Bed Mining.
Collection of such information is well beyond the resources of Pacific island governments and also beyond regional agencies like SPREP.
Mining companies can and should support independent and world class scientific studies of the biodiversity and the environment in the deep sea, and particularly the impacts that may be associated with Deep Sea Bed mining.
Concerted efforts should be made to sharing this data, to support Pacific island countries in increasing their knowledge and ability to plan for any Deep Sea activities.
I hope that this week's workshop will provide clear guidance on this issue and establish a way forward.
A second issue is the need for clear and effective decision making frameworks
Any discussion on issues such as Deep Sea bed mining must be within the framework of the Pacific Oceanscape, a vision adopted by the leaders of our Pacific countries.
At the heart of the Pacific Oceanscape is recognition of the inter-connected nature of marine resources, and need to manage them sustainably for future generations.
It is essential that governments start pushing social and environmental assessments further up the schedule to influence decision-making. In a nutshell, neutral cumulative and strategic environmental assessments must take place before concessions and to inform other ensuing assessments.
Deep Sea bed mining also requires a clear and effective process of Environmental Impact Assessment, or EIA, which must be credible and objective.
EIA must be based on the best information available and have appropriate capacity built or supported within Pacific island countries to accomplish this.
Clear and effective planning systems must be applied.
SPREP has been working with CSIRO in Australia on Marine Spatial Planning, as well as with GIZ, IUCN, and the French MPA Agency.
New projects and funding are currently increasing capacity and opportunity for support to Pacific islands in this aspect of marine planning.
But much more is required
Marine Spatial planning – basically zoning of marine resource use - involves assessment of information, identifying prescribed uses within different areas, including the protection of important marine biodiversity areas, and ensuring all factors - economic, social and environmental - are integrated into decision making.
The benefit of such an integrated approach is that the costs and benefits of different activities can be assessed, to best support sustainable development objectives, while ensuring that important environmental values are identified and protected to ensure retention of intact ecosystems.
These are fundamental for future resilience and long term sustainable resource use in our region.
SPREP has been actively supporting Pacific Island governments on Environmental Impact Assessment over many years, and there are many lessons learnt that we can draw from this experience, both good and bad, which can contribute to this workshop.
This week we will need to go down to a next level and flesh out how EIA and Marine Spatial Planning can be applied in the context of Deep Sea Bed Mining.
I look forward to guidance from the workshop on these matters.
A third issue is the need for effective involvement of key stakeholder groups.
Ambassador Fetturi from Samoa once stated that: "no-one has a mortgage on good ideas". Deep sea bed mining is an issue on which we need to hear the views of the governments and peoples of the Pacific and of civil society, including Non Government Organisations.
This workshop is thus a timely and welcome initiative and workshop organizers have strived to ensure a wide spectrum of views is represented and that we have quality participation.
I would urge you all to get involved and contribute your ideas and expertise this week on this critically important issue for our region.
SPREP welcomes this collaboration with SPC-SOPAC on Deep Sea Bed Mining. We feel this weeks' workshop is critical in promoting broad engagement and open discussion on the issue of Deep Sea Minerals.
I wish you all the best for a successful and productive week.