Environmental Security News This Week
Mineral Resources of the Seafloor: Deep Sea Mining in Marae Moana
Positioned off the coast of the Cook Islands, Marae Moana is one of the largest marine protected areas (MPA) in the world. A relatively new MPA, Marae Moana has had a contentious history. It is critical for ensuring marine biodiversity in the area, but it is also a highly desirable location for deep sea mining (DSM).
While DSM has been contemplated since the 1950s, recent technological advances and decreasing land mineral supplies have spurred a resurgence in DSM as a way to ensure economic security. Although the Cook Islands could gain significant wealth from its seafloor, this activity also poses serious risks. DSM can release toxic minerals, which could devastate fisheries, wildlife, and nearby communities which rely on the ocean for their livelihoods. The recent dismissal of Jacqueline Evans, director of Marae Moana, for her support of a moratorium on DSM, is but one example of increasing tension between these different visions.
To address the lack of international regulations governing DSM, the 1982 Law of the Seas Convention established the International Seabed Authority (ISA), an independent international organization with the authority to review and distribute commercial exploration and mining permits. Until the ISA sets guidelines in 2020, no mining can occur and it remains to be seen if DSM mining will take place in the Cook Islands. Whatever happens, 2020 will be a pivotal year for the future of DSM.
The Climate Crisis Continues to Intensify Droughts in Australia
“Day zero”, when water runs out, is a growing reality for communities in Australia. From New South Wales to Queensland, growing water scarcity threatens their economic security and livelihoods. Some estimates find that 97 percent of New South Wales is suffering from drought conditions. As the lower River Darling dries up, towns are having to increasingly rely on water trucks for their survival.
Significant decreases in rainfall, in part caused by climate change, is further limiting Australia’s ability to recover from previous droughts, making future droughts more severe. In addition, rising temperatures are combining with water scarcity to reduce wheat yields across Australia. In the short term, drought conditions threaten food production and access to clean water, decimating rural communities which rely on farming for their livelihoods. In the long term, reductions in wheat yield opens up opportunities for other countries to take over Australia’s market shares, weakening its position as a major wheat exporter.
Although it is impossible to completely prevent droughts, policy steps can be taken to build capacity and to improve Australia’s resilience to such events in the future. Reduced emphasis on damming, which leads to increased water evaporation, as well as improving sustainable irrigation can both help to alleviate water stress. In any event, Australia must prepare for a more water scarce future.