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Peace faces the axe

WHEN a delegation of over a dozen Solomon Island chiefs boarded the Greenpeace flagship Rainbow Warrior late last year they were seeking global support to save the Marovo Lagoon - dubbed 'the eighth wonder of the world'. They pointed to the forested hills around Marovo. They recounted stories from the 1990s when transnational logging interests came to their island with grand promises, but instead extracted the natural wealth of the land and left the local people with their forests destroyed. They remember how the fish stocks halved in Marovo Lagoon because of the run-off and pollution from logging operations. And they warn that it is happening once more.

Lobi (pronounced Lombi) is one of the few villages on Marovo Lagoon that practises sustainable forestry. Its portable sawmill returns good income to the community without destroying the forest. But just across the way a Malaysian company has set up shop and signed a large-scale logging agreement with 'landowners': people whose rights to the area the Lobi villagers dispute.

As a consequence the hills around Lobi - like those on many islands surrounding Marovo - are being rapidly denuded. In fact the Solomons are being logged at a rate faster than anywhere on earth: a rate driven by the demand for timber products from China and other booming Asian economies.

Investors who fled the country during the four years of civil unrest between 1999 and 2003 are now back in force. Now that a multinational police force led by Australia has rebuilt the local constabulary and taken guns off the streets in the capital, Honiara, logging companies feel safe to return for the plunder. The irony is that the last round of discontent and civil unrest was fuelled by the environmental destruction and the loss of sustainable livelihoods caused by large-scale logging and other resource extraction, like gold mining on Guadalcanal. Unchecked, logging activity can destabilize this country again.

Many new industrial logging concessions have recently been allocated in the Provinces. In the capital, some progress has been made to root out some of the corruption that was endemic to the forestry business before the crisis. However, it may be too little, too late. Back at Marovo Lagoon, the chiefs tell the story of a struggle on Vangunu Island. When landowners took matters into their own hands and blockaded a logging operation that they said was illegal, it was they who were arrested for disrupting the peace. In the international effort to stabilize the Solomons, the calls by these chiefs for community-led sustainable business models remain largely ignored.

Danny Kennedy

Loggers and ‘bashers’

Apolitical storm is brewing in the Pacific nation of Papua New Guinea (PNG). On 3 November serious new allegations of corruption by logging giant Rimbunan Hijau (RH) were made by a whistleblower cop. Royal PNG Constable Emmanuel Bani told Australian TV programme _Dateline_ that for years he had effectively worked as an enforcer for the company in Western Province, where most of the logging takes place. The story broke amidst growing concern with the government of Sir Michael Somare – on-again, off-again Prime Minister since independence in 1975 – and his government’s links to the transnational Malaysian logging company. As we go to print, a parliamentary vote-of-no-confidence has been proposed, although it is currently held up by legal challenges. The Somare Government also detained the Australian journalist responsible for the story for two days, though she was released when they found she had done nothing wrong and had a valid visa. This is not the first time that RH has been accused of corruption but the scale of the allegations – suggesting that the company runs Western Province like a private resource colony – are new. The programme details how the mobile police squad to which Constable Bani once belonged worked as on-call enforcers for RH’s business and received field allowances in return. Speaking of the company’s local manager, known to some as the ‘Governor’ of Western Province, Constable Bani said: ‘He paid us appreciation money... I’ve got money worth about 300, 400, 500 extra to my allowances and this is when I’m trying to come back to Port Moresby and when he hands this over to me hiddenly, he gives it to me and tells me that I’ll see you back again next weekend (sic).’ RH Company Secretary JK Balasubramaniam strongly denied that the company in any way condones violence at its operational sites, telling _Dateline_ that: ‘It is inconceivable that a large multinational like Rimbunan Hijau would pay large lump sums to the independent Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary to suppress and conduct police brutality against the peaceful citizens of Papua New Guinea in Western Province.’ Forestry accounts for only four per cent of the country’s gross national product yet destroys as much as 120,000 hectares of ancient forest per annum. RH controls the majority of operations as well as several retail businesses and the national newspaper. The police officer’s testimony added evidence of gross human rights violations by RH; his story was corroborated by traditional landowners and even by a company doctor. According to the whistleblower, any community member opposing RH’s operations in the area is susceptible to attack. He told _Dateline_: ‘We handled those suspects good and proper. We bashed them up, we hit them with huge irons and when we mobilized in there we made sure that these people who complain against the rights of their benefit were manhandled you know. I became violent because of their actions, because of their instructions.’ Rimbunan Hijau controls industrial logging operations in at least eight countries and operates across three continents as a conglomeration of hundreds of companies, all owned and controlled by the Tiong family in Malaysia. RH dominates the logging industry in Papua New Guinea and has significant logging interests in Malaysia, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Cameroon, Indonesia, Vanuatu, New Zealand/Aotearoa, Brazil and Russia. In March, Greenpeace International published a report, _The Untouchables_, suggesting that the operations of this Malaysian conglomerate are characterized by a blatant disregard for the law. RH threatened to sue for defamation in the Netherlands but has so far failed to take legal action.

For more information see

Lest we forget Shell...

In November 1995 the New York Times called it the morality tale of the 20th century: the judicial murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight colleagues from the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MoSOP) by the Nigerian Government at the behest of Royal Dutch Shell Corporation.

This month marks the ninth anniversary of the hanging of the Ogoni Nine. Yet for all the outrage (Nigeria was suspended from the Commonwealth and Shell was persona non grata for most activists around the world for a couple of years) Ken’s body has still not been returned for proper burial and his name is still listed amongst murderers in Nigeria.

Although Ogoni is almost used as a byword for social justice for indigenous peoples impacted by resource extraction around the Earth, little has changed on the ground for these heroic people. But there are some promising developments. The new, supposedly democratic Government of Nigeria is suing Shell for the clean-up of the Niger Delta. Surviving members of the Ogoni Nine’s families are suing Shell in US courts and are expected to go to a jury trial in the next several months. And Ken’s brother, Owens Wiwa, and his son, Ken Junior, are organizing a memorial for the 10th anniversary in November 2005. Watch this space for details.

Tuna trouble

PRIME Minister Qarase of Fiji opened the first Pacific Islands Regional Oceans Forum in February this year by calling on delegates ‘to continue to be vigilant against those intent on poaching and plundering our marine resources. The region has the world’s largest remaining sustainable tuna fishery – an essential source of food for the global market. But the commercial reality is that more than 95 per cent of the value of the South Pacific tuna catch goes to distant water-fishing countries.’

Over 60 per cent of the world’s canned tuna and 30 per cent of the sashimi comes from Pacific fisheries. Local fleets catch about 200,000 tonnes: 10 per cent of the total catch. The rest – a whopping 1.8 million tonnes – is taken by foreign fishing fleets that pay licence fees to access the Pacific fishing grounds. These licence fees are small. The industry is worth $2 billion each year. Yet Pacific islands receive a fraction of this through fees: less than 4 per cent ($79.3 million) in 1999, and this shared amongst 14 Pacific Island Countries (PICs).

Kiribati – a nation of islands strung across hundreds of kilometres of the Pacific Ocean – has an Exclusive Economic Zone over 3.6 million square kilometres in size. In 2002, Kiribati earned $32.5 million from access fees, which is estimated to be over 30 per cent of its GDP. But to do this, Kiribati ‘rents’ its oceans out to 393 fishing vessels. A bilateral agreement – in force since 2002 – gives Kiribati $44.45 for each tonne fished out by a European Union fishing vessel. Yet world markets are paying up to $800 for Skipjack tuna and $1,100 for Yellowfin.

The increase in the scale and number of boats, the use of high-tech fishing equipment, like the aerial spotting of tuna schools, and the catch of juvenile fish are all causing problems for the four main tuna species that we eat.

Overfishing is the result. Just as happened in Canada when cod fisheries collapsed in the early 1990s – with catches of North Atlantic cod going from over four million tonnes to zero in two years – anecdotal evidence abounds that the Pacific fisheries face a similar threat. A 2003 scientific stock take con- firms Big Eye Tuna are at extreme risk of being exploited beyond the point of no return. Yellowfin are also at risk.

The tuna catch in the Pacific has more than quadrupled in the last 30 years. And – with the collapse of fishing grounds around the world – more and more fishing vessels are being steered into the Pacific. The stark reality for Pacific countries is that if the trends continue, then within three to five years all stocks may be critically overfished.

ACTION: Read more in the new Greenpeace report Development without Destruction: Towards Sustainable Pacific Fisheries. Contact Greenpeace Australia Pacific Oceans Campaign, c/o Old Town Hall, Suva, Fiji Islands;
email [[email protected]](mailto:[email protected]?Subject=Action%20from%20NI%20366%20-%20www.newint.org)
or phone +67 9 331 2861.

From coal to sunrise

Australia has a problem: we have plentiful coal and are hugely dependent on it. Not only is over three-quarters of our electricity supply coal-fired, but we are the largest exporter of black coal in the world.

The three main eastern states – New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland – are built on the back of the coal industry. Three-quarters of the approximately 250 million tonnes of coal we dig up is sent overseas, making it our largest export earner by a mile.

Domestically, 24 power stations are the major source of greenhouse gas emissions in Australia. These power stations emit more carbon dioxide than the workings of entire countries’ economies including Argentina, Malaysia, Ireland and Sweden.

Even so the coal industry is a relatively small employer with job numbers falling fast as mines are more mechanized and as companies like Rio Tinto pursue worker-unfriendly policies.

Despite this, the industry’s strongholds – places like the La Trobe valley in Victoria, the Hunter region in New South Wales (NSW) and the Bowen Basin in Queensland – continue to exert incredible influence on the political, cultural and economic landscape of a country which is otherwise largely urban. It has long been said, despite our standing as one of the most ‘developed nations’ in the world, that our economy is that of a quarrying colony.

‘We saw that it would be local actions in cities and towns that would make the long-term gains in environmental sustainability’

From a greenhouse perspective, this means we have the highest per-capita emissions profile in the world. Also our economic growth is reliant on continued export of carbon. No wonder that Australia stands out of the Kyoto Protocol as the only ‘Annex 1’ country unwilling to ratify other than the US.

But business-as-usual is not something we can bank on in a carbon-constrained world.

Some, even within the heartland of Australia’s coal country, see the writing on the wall and are pursuing ways out of our current predicament. Critical to the success of this transformation will be how we take care of the workers and communities who have grown up on and been underpinned by the coal industry.

This concept of a ‘just transition’ for workers and others dependent on a fossil-fuels economy is a strange kind of reversal of a dream that the labour movement in Australia long held dear. All the major Australian states have tried to convert our base of cheap and plentiful energy into value-adding, manufacturing industries.

None has really succeeded, apart from small manufacturing centres. The reality is we dig up the coal and ship offshore what we don’t burn for our own consumption. Despite such failures to deliver meaningful secondary economic development, many in the climate protection movement recognize that if we are to wean Australia off coal we will have to create plenty of good jobs and business opportunities in the sunrise clean power industry.

This is starting to happen in Newcastle, NSW’s second city at the mouth of the Hunter River and its main manufacturing base. In recent years it has seen much of its heavy industry shut down. Broken Hill Plc (BHP) – the so-called ‘Big Australian’ which was once a more diversified conglomerate than just a mining transnational – closed its Newcastle steel plants in the last decade and appeared to be condemning the town to become a rust-belt.

The good news is this has not happened. Instead, Newcastle has been undergoing a kind of renaissance with fledgling industries like tourism, vineyards (the Hunter Valley is also home to some of Australia’s finest plonk!) and filmmaking coming to the fore. More importantly, the Newcastle City Council has championed an explicit plan to turn the city into a clean-energy centre of excellence in coming decades.

According to the Mayor, John Tate, Newcastle learned a lot from a conference it hosted in 1997 called Pathways to Sustainability. ‘We saw that it would be local actions in cities and towns that would make the long-term gains in environmental sustainability.’ Newcastle then moved quickly to become more accountable for its own operations in terms of energy and resource consumption. This was supported by the development of a Green Energy Project. Since that time the Council has managed to bring its 2002 electricity bill down to just over half of what it was in 1995. Newcastle even set up a pioneering website that reports city-wide emissions caused by actual energy consumption and waste sent to landfill (see www.climatecam.com).And it created a self-standing business- unit of the City Council called the Australian Municipal Energy Improvement Facility to take the gospel of energy efficiency and renewables to other Australian cities. Known as AMEIF it is ‘quietly creating a green revolution in Newcastle and the Hunter Region, and carving out a path to sustainability Australia-wide’ – even if they say so themselves.

Local unions and some politicians are seeking ways to ‘make coal sustainable’ – however implausible that may seem

Apart from sparing Newcastle a huge chunk of its city budget with energy savings, AMEIF has helped spawn a resource-efficiency consulting enterprise for industry which it now contracts to other cities. This demonstrates how to take profitable government, residential and commercial sector greenhouse action.

But Geoff Evans, a member of the Board of Australia’s Mineral Policy Institute who also teaches ecologically sustainable development at the University of Newcastle, points out that there is ‘no consensus’ on the vision of a clean-energy future. In spite of the actions of AMEIF, local unions and some politicians are seeking ways to ‘make coal sustainable’ – however implausible that may seem.

They are up against Minewatch, a group of residents in the Upper Hunter valley organizing against the expansion of some of the mines which export 70 per cent of their product to the dozens of ships waiting at Newcastle Harbour daily. Minewatch has found allies in the local wine-based tourism industry, which does not want to see its booming business wither on the vine due to coal dust and air pollution from coal plants producing electricity for distant cities.

The potential for Australia’s green-energy industry is exciting. By making a just transition to a sustainable future we could create an industry rich in good jobs, with organized labour winning decent wages and conditions in the manufacture and maintenance of wind- and solar-power systems. What’s more – and this appeals to Australians – the scale and distributed nature of clean-power generation lends itself to plants and installations in rural and regional Australia as well as in many of the smaller, more depressed cities. If we support the fledgling industry here and now we could ultimately become a hub for a clean-energy export industry to the entire Asia-Pacific region.

Right now dozens of ships a day wait off Newcastle Harbour to load up and flog coal to Asia. Wouldn’t it be great to see those same ships laden with solar cells or wind turbines?

Danny Kennedy is the co-ordinator of the Climate Action Network Australia, www.climatenetwork.org.

Obstacles

Action