This week, delegates from around the world are meeting at the United Nations for the first UN Oceans Conference, to discuss the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14: the conservation of oceans, seas and marine resources.
We are subjecting our oceans to a barrage of assaults, many of which we are all familiar with - rising temperatures, overfishing, acidification. Less well-known are the dual threats to oceans from mining: the ongoing pollution of marine ecosystems by mine waste and the irreversible harm to deep-sea ecosystems that would result from proposed deep-seabed mining.
One year ago, on November 5, 2015, a mining waste dam failed at the Samarco iron mine in rural Brazil, unleashing an enormous torrent of chemical-laden sludge into the Rio Doce. At least 19 people died and some 700 people were left homeless. Aquatic ecosystems were wiped out by the plume of pollution that reached the Atlantic Ocean. What remains is a polluted river that locals will have to contend with for decades to come.
Deep-sea mining sounds like something out of a science fiction novel – and indeed, the claims by companies hoping to extract metals from cobalt crusts, manganese nodules, and hydrothermal vents on deep sea beds do seem to have their basis in fiction more than fact. As yet, there are no viable deep-sea mining operations – but many companies and governments are hoping that will change.
The diverse organizations and sectors—labor unions, indigenous communities, NGOs, mining companies and downstream purchasers of minerals—that form the Steering Committee for the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA) often get asked why we sit at this table across from other stakeholders with whom we don’t always see eye to eye. Given that we frequently see issues from very different perspectives, why do we choose to engage in this challenging, time-consuming work?
This week we’re celebrating two momentous wins for environmental justice and human rights in Peru.
First, we’re toasting the victory of Máxima Acuña de Chaupe, a subsistence farmer from the Andean highlands of northern Peru, who has been awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for her brave stand against Newmont, the mining company that has tried to evict her from her land to build the giant Conga gold and copper mine.
Happy Mother’s Day!
Large scale, industrial mining disproportionately impacts women.
So they’re often on the frontlines, fighting dirty mining projects and demanding responsible behavior from mining companies. Perhaps because they’re fighting for their children’s future, these women are often moms.