Windhoek – Following his registration to participate in the EIA process as an interested and affected party, an independent environmental consultant proposed to the National Marine Information and Research Centre in the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR) in May 2014 to form a technical steering committee to oversee the environmental assessment process for marine phosphate mining.
New Era obtained a copy of the said letter, to which the ministry never responded, which if it was implemented at the time, could have avoided the current controversy surrounding the environmental clearance certificate issued to Namibia Marine Phosphate (NMP) to commence with mining operations off the Namibian coast.
At the time environmental consultant Nico Willemse, a marine specialist by training with extensive experience in environmental impact assessments, proposed that the technical steering committee include the ministries of fisheries (MFMR), environment and tourism (MET), mines and energy (), as well as key stakeholders, such as the Chamber of Mines, the Confederation of Fishing Associations, the Benguela Current Commission (BCC) and the officers in charge of issuing marine phosphate mining license and exploration and prospecting licences.
“The objective of the committee would be to use the best available data, and as far as feasible, to generate new scientific information and data (including social and economic) to determine whether marine fishing and phosphate mining can co-exist,” said Willemse at the time, in anticipation of environmental assessment stakeholder consultations slated for June 2 to 5, 2014.
He further proposed that the committee be tasked with safeguarding marine life resources at all costs, which he described as the backbone of the fishing sector.
Willemse even suggested that to ensure scientific rigour in the analysis and transparency of the process, the BCC could attract one or more international experts as independent facilitators and reviewers of the process.
“Given Norway’s relationship with Namibia and their experience with the co-existence of oil production and fishing, they might be able to offer such skill and expertise. The main aim of this process is to determine if the sectors can co-exist, given the seasonality of fishing and the mere expanse of sea between the mining area and the fishing grounds,” Willemse proposed.
“This process could find that (for example) substituting hake fishing with marine phosphate mining could result in more employment, greater macro-economic benefits over a longer period of time and the recovery of the hake fishery in the absence of any or limited fishing.”
This, he noted, would genuinely be cutting-edge and innovative in finding sustainable development solutions that suit the specific Namibian context.
Willemse remains a strong proponent of the use of reliable and valid data and proposed the development and cost-benefit modeling of different feasible scenarios.
The committee would also have been tasked with fostering partnerships among the fishing and mining sectors, as well as between government and the private sector.
“The end result could be more cooperation for development of Namibia and the benefit of its people instead of sector competition and finger-pointing.
“In addition, the government could recognise the private sector as a meaningful development partner that contributes immensely to meeting environmental, social and economic goals.
“Vision 2030 would become an easier milestone to reach when MFMR, MET and MME take a different approach through this process to demonstrate partnerships with the private sector,” said Willemse.
Furthermore, the technical committee would have been responsible for examining approaches and experiences in other jurisdictions, such as in New Zealand, where two environmental consent applications were under review by that country’s Environmental Protection Authority.
“The most exciting component of the New Zealand efforts to ensure the co-existence with the environment has been their work with NIWA (National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research – NZ) to develop a spatial planning process that identifies areas of the ocean with high biodiversity or resource potential and supports developmental decisions that balance conservation and economic benefit,” Willemse noted.
He added that the work done in New Zealand could serve as a test case to investigate the methodology used and the implications for Namibia’s own policies related to marine spatial management, broadly, but more specifically for marine phosphate mining that co-exists with the conservation of marine biodiversity.”
In recent communication with Willemse, he noted that governments across the world are adopting “Green economy principles” for sustainable development planning, as classical economic theories and models that are consumption-centric and do not incorporate the value and sustainability of natural resources as economic assets are outdated and irrelevant in a fast-changing world.
He also observed that in the media the terms EIA and strategic environmental assessment (SEA) are used inter-changeably, while the two are distinctly different tools and entail different processes.
He proposed that SEAs are excellent tools to examine the policy and economic fit of emerging sectors, as it looks at conflicts and complementarities between existing sectors and their policies, plans and programmes. Only once the SEA’s outcomes suggest an activity as environmentally, socially and economically suitable, does one conduct an EIA for a specific project that has a defined geographic scope and operational size.
Also weighing in on the marine phosphate debate, Namibia Diamond Commissioner Kennedy Hamutenya recently posted on social media that he is neither for nor against marine phosphate mining.
“All I said was let the Namibian government commission an independent study by well-renowned world-class experts (not sponsored by the phosphate consortium, nor sponsored by Ministry of Fisheries nor by Ministry of Mines and Energy)… an unbiased study that sheds light on this phosphate saga in an objective and scientific manner.
“Then we can put the debate to rest once and for all. Cabinet can then make a decision for or against. This is a national matter and should be treated as such,” Hamutenya remarked.