Mining and mining policy in the Pacific: history, challenges and perspectives

Noumea, New-Caledonia, 21 - 25 November 2011

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Background

Mining in the Pacific is characterised by its diversity and by the role it has played in the historical development of the region. Often an issue of major economic, social and environmental import, mining has continued throughout the colonial and postcolonial eras, with widely divergent political implications and impacts. Mining activity, which comes in long and irregular cycles, varies from country to country according to market dynamics, the technology used and the minerals in question.

The issue of mining is not as crucially important at all times and in all places, and the activity gives rise, during its ‘cycles’, to periods of tension and prosperity, depending on the resource in question, the geographical location of the mine, local added value and the scope of projects, the mining techniques used, the ways in which revenue is distributed, and the positioning and strategies of local communities, companies, states and local authorities.

Managing the benefits and risks and impacts of mining, beyond merely dealing with mining rent and the fluctuating price of raw materials, can become a major public policy issue. The trend is particularly marked where the mining sector is of key importance in the country’s political economy, as it is in Papua New Guinea for instance, and in New Caledonia, which is strengthening its commitment to the metallurgical industry with the ongoing construction of two big processing plants. Everywhere, local and national authorities, local populations and their representatives, specialised non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and also companies, are trying to manage an increasingly complex institutional world. The scope of these actors’ power to act and make decisions may be local, national or international, and new links are bringing together networks, communities, and public and private actors, blurring the boundaries between the different spheres. Who decides whether or not to get involved in mining is another issue.

Mining is a matter of money, power and resources. It puts the future of communities at risk. It is often a source of conflict and, in this context, information constitutes a strategic asset. Although data do exist on mining sites, they often remain in the ownership of companies or governments. Likewise, academic reports and articles on mining are often limited to specific sites or to the history of a country or a region. Sometimes they focus only on a specific activity (such as extraction), whereas a wider understanding of the industry (including markets) would enable us to grasp the interplay of local activities which otherwise appear unconnected. Information is seldom shared or discussed. Several worlds seem to be developing in parallel: that of mining, that of government authorities and that of civil society, each with its own vision and its own truths; and the decisions of each, taken in isolation, can lead to uninformed communities and opacity. Likewise, the links between the different levels of operation within the mining sector, from the mine site to the international regulations and strategies, are far from perfect. Mining is a complex issue, and as none of the different actors alone possesses all the necessary knowledge, it is only by bringing them  together, sharing information, and discussing the issue from a range of perspectives that understanding and viable action can be achieved.

This conference adopts a novel stance in that its express aim is to create a forum for dialogue among actors who often have conflicting interests. The call for papers is, therefore, open to mining-sector professionals from the whole of the industry—from extraction to metallurgy and its applications—as well as to representatives of communities that live near mines, local and international associations, State representatives, local governments and local authorities, and also to researchers from different disciplines.

Updated 08/31/2011

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