BY ALEX HARRIS (via PNG Attitude)
MINING IS AN unsustainable industry globally, but it is especially unsustainable in a developing nation like PNG.
Mines have a limited life - in most cases between 10 and 20 years. Commodity prices are subject to boom and bust cycles. Wealth from mining is concentrated in the hands of a very small group of multinational corporations. Skilled employees are imported, jobs for locals are only temporary and lowly paid. Toxic waste - and resulting wasteland - is left behind.
With an economic life of only a decade or two at best, what happens then? The resources are dug up, taken out of the country, gone. And that’s if the mine lasts the distance.
Scars puncture the earth on every continent from mining ventures that were strategically shut down or went broke due to a plunge in commodity prices, a credit crunch or a stockmarket crash, and the gaping holes are left abandoned, perhaps until such time as prices and markets return in the next cycle, or perhaps not.
While this IS a global phenomenon, the consequences for a developing country dependent upon a handful of projects can be devastating. When a single industry represents so great a percentage of the national revenue, it reveals an unsustainable economy. This is the case for PNG.
In contrast, there are many regions and more than a few nations that have or are building economic prosperity on the their wildlife and environmental conservation efforts.
South Africa, a country rich in and dependent upon its resources industry, and still with major social issues of crime and poverty, is reporting new records in tourism arrivals. Tourism has been identified by the government of South Africa as a key economic sector, growing faster than any other.
It is developing niche tourism sectors under the banner of nature-based tourism such as photographic safaris, eco-tourism, paleo-tourism, adventure and cultural tourism. Already, nature-based tourism “contributes as much to the economies of all southern African countries as agriculture, forestry, and fisheries combined.” [Dr Laurel Neme, The Wildliferadio program, USA, 1/3/2010]
Costa Rica, in severe poverty and unable to pay its foreign debt thirty years ago, is experiencing the greatest surge of its “new primary industry, tourism”. Its sales pitch is: "Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints and waste nothing but time." Services industries (led by tourism) now contribute 68% of GDP.
While global tourism, worth more than US$700 billion and employing 8% of the global workforce, is one of the fastest growing industries and nature-based tourism the fastest growing sector, it is matched in pace and potential by the growth of Fairtrade.
Fairtrade is a market-based system of ethical consumption, where consumers choose to buy products sourced from farmers and manufacturers who have been fairly paid, who produce in a sustainable fashion, and whose working conditions and economic outcomes are better than those traditionally available to workers in developing nations.
Globally, an estimated 5 million people – farmers, workers and their families – are already benefiting from the Fairtrade system. Fairtrade is currently working in 58 developing countries, with 464 producer organizations and 515 registered traders who commit to agreed trading standards (including payment of minimum Fairtrade prices and social premiums) and independent audit of sales.
The European Commission has committed to halt losses of wildlife biodiversity across the EU, which José Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Commission, concedes have been extensive.
“Europe’s agriculture, water supplies, and fisheries all rely on a healthy environment and the wellbeing of the more than 500 million European citizens relies on a healthy environment… EU institutions and member states must realise that investing in wildlife is investing in citizens’ wellbeing,” he said.
In June of this year, the European Green Week conference put forward solutions to not just save what is left, but restore what has been degraded through unsustainable land and water use.
Economist Pavan Sukhdev, lead author of The Economics of Ecosystems & Biodiversity, a study of the real financial value of the environment, shows that the ecosystem services provided by coral reefs contribute USD$170 billion per year to the global economy. A quarter of all marine fish species are dependent on coral reefs for survival and half-a-billion people depend on them for their livelihoods.
Other ecosystem services on which we depend include seed dispersal, pollination of crops, pest control, weed management, soil formation and regeneration, and clean water - all created by, maintained and served by worthless little bugs, bees and birds. Logging of old growth forests, unsustainable fisheries and mining, removes substantial components of this most important of supply chains at our peril.
An investment of $45 billion in protected areas worldwide could save nature-based services worth $4.5-$5.2 trillion a year - more than the value of the car, steel and information technology sectors together.
The core issue remains the opportunity cost of utilising an environment as extraordinary as PNG’s for mining versus preserving it’s primordial state as best the country can. Maintaining the environment rather than destroying it provides for a diversity of activities, industries and economic cycles, for a variety of income streams and requires a range of skills. It is in every sense sustainable and therefore theoretically timeless, and inestimable in value.
Yes, there are indeed options to mining as a path to prosperity for PNG. More importantly, there are options to using deep sea tailings, and it is imperative that this practice be stopped immediately.
To suggest that environmental impacts of mining can be minimised by deep sea tailings is to assume that there is little life, or little life of value on the sea floor. This equates to a ‘flat earth’ assumption on the part of the esteemed environmental consultants.