Indonesia Ditches Ocean Dumping

The tides are turning. 

Last year Indonesia was moving full steam ahead with plans to approve permits to dump 31 million tonnes of mine waste from nickel EV battery chemical processing plants into the biodiverse waters of the Coral Triangle. Impacted communities and their allies were doing everything they could to stop them. 

Their persistence paid off. In February,  the Indonesian government announced that it will not approve new mines using submarine tailings disposal (STD). The commitment is not yet backed by policy, but both operations pursuing permits for STD have withdrawn their applications. The developers of the Indonesia Morowali Industrial Park were the first to scrap plans to dump 25 million tonnes of toxic waste into the ocean in October 2020. Harita Group, owners of the Obi Island nickel mine, followed suit after the government announced the new policy at the beginning of the month. 

This incredible about face in Indonesia follows years of steady progress to undermine institutional support for the outdated and dirty practice. Since we launched the Ditch Ocean Dumping campaign, Citigroup, Standard Chartered and Credit Suisse have all prohibited or severely restricted financing for companies that use ocean dumping. And Storebrand, a major Norwegian asset manager, divested from the Ramu nickel and cobalt mine  over environmental harm from ocean tailings dumping. 

We are winning the battle to label ocean dumping the worst of the worst when it comes to mine tailings management, and companies that use the outdated practice are being put on “the same blacklist as illegal artisanal cobalt miners from the DRC.”  Mining companies like Eramet and Terrafame, which  engaged in the EV battery metals market, have stated they will not use ocean tailings dumping because it  is not compatible with the transition to renewable energy.

Downstream users in the electric vehicle and tech sectors are also increasingly concerned that risks from dirty mining will undermine the shift to clean energy. The practice of ocean dumping carries huge risks for ecosystems and communities, especially in the highly biodiverse places, like Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Norway, where the projects are being proposed. Tesla, whose CEO Elon Musk famously promised a “giant contract” to any company able to source nickel “efficiently and in an environmentally sensitive way,” submitted an investment proposal to the Indonesian government the day before the country announced that new mining projects would not be permitted to dump their waste into the ocean. 

Even carmakers best known for combustion engine vehicles are getting in on the act, a sign of the accelerating shift to electric cars. BMW, Ford and Daimler (Mercedes-Benz) have signed onto the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA) which, among other things, prohibits all submarine tailings disposal of mine waste.  

This incredible victory in Indonesia means protection of ocean critters and coastal communities from toxic mine waste. It also means that when it comes to advancing new ocean dumping mines, Norway and Papua New Guinea now stand alone. Stay tuned for new opportunities to support community allies in both countries to protect their culture and livelihoods from the last proposed ocean dumping mines.

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