Environmental Groups Win a Major Legal Battle in New Caledonia
August 22, 2006 | No Comments
On June 14, residents of New Caledonia won a major victory against a multinational nickel mining project when an administrative tribunal in Noumea cancelled the mine’s license for operation. The victory came, in part, as the result of a peaceful 3,000-person protest in which demonstrators expressed their dissatisfaction with the environmental standards under which the company was constructing a new nickel mine.
Back in October of 2004, the Goro Nickel Company — which is owned primarily by Canadian and Japanese mining companies — was given a license by the New Caledonian government to construct a mine and to extract nickel and other ores from these South Pacific islands. This move was opposed, however, by many environmental activist groups, including Point Zero/Baseline and CAUGERN (The Indigenous Council for Natural Resources Management in Kanaky-New Caledonia). These groups claimed that they were not against the project per se, but were protesting the lack of a thorough assessment of the environmental risks endemic to mineral extraction, as well as the lack of consultation of native groups in the project’s implementation. Global Greengrants has awarded several grants to Point Zero/Baseline (formerly called Action Biosphere) for its work on the Goro Nickel project and other environmental issues affecting New Caledonia. (see profile on Point Zero/Baseline for more details) .
Opposition to the mine culminated in a June 5, 2006 demonstration outside a New Caledonian government building. Three thousand opponents of the mine participated, voicing their concerns about the destruction of lives and livelihoods of New Caledonia’s indigenous people and the threat to one of the largest and oldest coral reefs in the world, the New Caledonia Barrier Reef. That reef is one of the world’s “biodiversity hotspots.” The protesters have also been supported by international groups like Global Response, which will continue its three-year letter-writing campaign to inform the New Caledonian government about the threat that the nickel mine poses to the coral reef ecosystem and the residents of the island.
The Noumean court revoked Goro-Nickel’s license because of insufficient study of the project’s environmental impact. The ruling, although a clear cease and desist order about future mining plans and an impressive legal victory for the indigenous and environmental groups, has little impact on the site as it is. Goro-Nickel’s construction license remains valid, and the site is still unfinished and not yet functional. The company also made a public statement claiming that the mine project is being carried out in a sustainable way, and that they respect nature and civil society. In any event, groups such as Point Zero/Baseline, CAUGERN, Global Response and Greengrants will continue to work to forestall, or failing that to minimize, the devastation that the mine might cause.