State of Conservation (SOC)
Kakadu National Park
UNESCO Extra-Budgetary Funds
International Assistance granted to the property
Requests Approved: 0
Total Amount Ap proved: 0USD
October 1998: World Heritage Centre / ICOMOS / IUCN joint mission
Factors* affecting the property identified in previous reports
- Mining projects;
- Protected area considered inadequate at the time of inscription
Current conservation issues
Dialogue with the Traditional Owners
The twenty-fourth session of the Committee (Cairns, 2000) encouraged the State Party and the Mirrar Traditional Owners to resume and continue their efforts in a constructive dialogue, in order to develop together a process leading towards the protection of Kakadu's cultural heritage. The twenty-fifth session of the Bureau (June 2001) noted new information on the dialogue and requested the State Party to keep the World Heritage Centre regularly informed of progress. The State Party has informed the Centre that it will report on progress in protecting the cultural values of Kakadu National Park at the end of November and would be pleased to provide an oral update to the Committee.
At its twenty-fifth session in June 2001 the Bureau noted reports on the first sightings of cane toads (Bufo marinus) in Kakadu National Park and commended the State Party for its approach on monitoring and research activities. The Bureau requested the State Party to report regularly to the World Heritage Centre on results of monitoring programmes and research activities. No new information has been received on this subject.
Landscape and ecosystem analysis, recruitment of the water resource specialist and establishment of the Independent Science Advisory Committee
As requested by the Bureau at its 25th session in June 2001 the State Party has provided new information on the progress with the (i) landscape and ecosystem analysis, (ii) recruitment of the water resource specialist and (iii) establishment of the Independent Science Advisory Committee.
(i) The State Party has provided information on discussions with stakeholders on the scope and content of a program which will:
· focus on the conservation of the natural World Heritage values of Kakadu National Park;
· be capable of distinguishing possible mining and related impacts at the landscape scale from effects due to other causes; and
· inform Australia's periodic report in 2003.
The first project, which has commenced, will describe the distribution of and map the extent of the major ecosystems in the Alligator Rivers Region.
(ii) A water resource specialist has been selected and is being appointed.
(iii) Details of the composition of a newly established Independent Science Advisory Committee (ISAC) for Jabiluka, as recommended by the ISP (Independent Scientific Panel) of ICSU, have been received from the State Party. Membership of the previous existing statutory scientific review committee, the Alligator Rivers Region Technical Committee , has been amended. The terms of reference for the ISAC are as recommended by the ISP. The next meeting of the new committee is to take place in October.
The new appointments to the committee include independent members nominated by the independent Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Services (FASTS) and appointed by the Minister, and representatives of the key stakeholder groups (Parks Australia; Energy Resources of Australia Ltd; Hanson Australia Pty Ltd; the Northern Land Council, and the Northern Territory Department of Mines and Energy). The Supervising Scientist is also a member of the committee.
IUCN has noted that it is not proposed at present to include a representative from an environmental NGO in the ISAC, and believes that this is an omission that should be rectified in order to ensure the credibility of the Committee’s work, especially as other stakeholder groups are to be represented. In this connection, IUCN notes that the final ISP report recommended that « the Committee’s terms of reference, membership, secretarial support etc. would need to be agreed between the Australian Government and the WH Committee » (report number 3, section 8.1).
Australian environmental NGO Report on Jabiluka
A report has been received from three Australian environmental NGOs: the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Environment Centre NT Inc. and Friends of the Earth. The State Party and IUCN have commented on the report.
IUCN notes that the report raises the following concerns:
· There remains no publicly available current mine plan. As the project has changed considerably from the approved proposal it is impossible to quantify the potential impacts of the mine.
· The principal environmental hazards at the Jabiluka site are the mineralised ore stockpile and the 'interim' water management pond (IWMP). The IWMP is now serving as the primary component of a long-term water management system at Jabiluka though it was only designed to be operational for a period of 12 months. Project delays could result in the use of the interim pond for a much greater period than it was designed for.
The report also refers to water management problems over the last two wet seasons:
· In the 1999/2000 wet season the IWMP filled almost to capacity. Energy Resources of Australia committed to installing a Reverse Osmosis (RO) plant in early 2000 to capture contaminants and filter the water to a standard suitable for irrigation on the Jabiluka mineral lease. This was installed towards the end of 2000.
· In mid-February 2001 the company was forced to resort to pumping water from the IWMP into the mine decline and underground shafts in order to avoid the IWMP overflowing. This process has led to further contamination of accumulated water at the Jabiluka site with a subsequent significant elevation in the contaminant load. The report notes that the IWMP water is contaminated with elevated levels of uranium and other minerals. According to the Supervising Scientist “the contact with the ore body at the very bottom has increased the concentration of uranium in the water in the decline to 1,500 parts per billion. By the end of the wet season around 20ML of water was in the decline.
· There is concern that ERA will be unable to treat all the contaminated water prior to the 2001/02 wet season."
IUCN also notes that the report raises concerns over the storage of the estimated 20,000 tonne stockpile of mineralised ore unearthed during the construction of the Jabiluka decline, which is currently covered with a tarpaulin.
Furthermore IUCN notes the report ends by saying that the cessation of construction and the future uncertainty of the project raise considerable opportunities for the Australian Government to prevent further development at Jabiluka and safeguard the region’s World Heritage values and properties. The NGO report recommends that there are grounds to include Kakadu in the List of World Heritage in Danger.
IUCN considers that the reported water management problems are of concern, and recommends this issue be tabled at the next meeting of the ISAC and that a report be requested from the State Party to the next meeting of the Bureau.
The State Party has informed the Centre that water management planning at Jabiluka for the 2001-2002 wet season has included earthworks by ERA Ltd to reduce the catchment of the Interim Water Management Pond and minimise inflows. In addition, pond water is being treated by reverse osmosis and the decontaminated water is irrigated on disturbed areas on the mining lease.
Furthermore the State Party considers that there is no evidence to justify repeated claims that the mine poses a serious threat to the World Heritage values of Kakadu National Park or that it should be included on the List of World Heritage in Danger.
Rehabilitation of the Jabiluka mine site
The World Heritage Centre has received an exchange of correspondence between the Gundjehmi Aboriginal Corporation (GAC) and Environment Australia on the subject of rehabilitation of the Jabiluka mine site. At its twenty-fifth session in June 2001 the Bureau did not request the State Party to report on rehabilitation options at the site.
The GAC has expressed its desire to see an assessment of rehabilitation options for the Jabiluka mine site undertaken. The GAC believes that the March 2001 announcement by ERA majority share holder Rio Tinto that it would not develop Jabiluka in the short-term triggers an assessment of rehabilitation options for the site, as indicated in the ISP of ICSU Report no. 3, page 24 which states:
“the Supervising Scientist has indicated that, should further developments at Jabiluka be delayed for a protracted period or, if the mining company propose to mothball the site, the Supervising Scientist would consider what arrangements would be necessary to ensure that the site continues to pose no significant threat to the World Heritage Property. Options that the SS should consider include revegetation of the waste stockpiles, emplacement of the mineralised material stockpile in the decline, sealing of the decline, and decommissioning the water management facilities”.
The State Party reply to the GAC dated 13 August 2001 on this issue notes:
· The Jabiluka mineral lease was granted in 1982 for 42 years. There is currently no legal requirement, which would prevent the mining company from continuing to manage the Jabiluka site on a standby and environmental management basis until it is required to begin rehabilitation work before the end of the lease period in 2024. Such rehabilitation would need to commence about five years before the end of the lease period, thereby in about 2019.
· Recent statements made by Rio Tinto are consistent with the ERA’s 1999 commitment to the World Heritage Committee, that full scale commercial mining at Jabiluka, if it was to commence, would only be reached at about 2009 following the scaling down of production at the Ranger mine.
· At its 2000 AGM, Rio Tinto confirmed ERA’s existing commitments regarding sequential development and added that Rio Tinto does not believe that Jabiluka can be developed without the consent of both the Northern Land Council and, through the Northern Land Council, the traditional land owners of the area.
· Such statements confirm the current status of the mine on standby and environmental management for at least 8 years.
· The Supervising Scientist has advised that the current delay does not trigger an immediate assessment of the status of the Jabiluka site. Whilst assessment of the site is not required, options for the possible future rehabilitation of Jabiluka continue to receive the utmost consideration by the Supervising Scientist as part of his assessment and supervisory program.
Taking account of the Terms of Reference of the ISAC, IUCN acknowledges the concerns raised by the GAC about the rehabilitation of the Jabiluka mine, and recommends that the above matters be referred to the first meeting of the ISAC and reported on to the next meeting of the Bureau.
The State Party has informed the Centre that the Plan of Rehabilitation for the Jabiluka Project is updated annually and reviewed in conjunction with the Northern Land Council as the organisation responsible for representing the Traditional Owners. The rehabilitation plan, last revised in February 2001, specifies the strategies and activities required for rehabilitation of the site from its current state. The plan has been accepted by the Commonwealth supervising agency.
Analysis and Conclusion
Link to the decision
V.170 In noting that the Jabiluka uranium mine site (on a mineral lease surrounded by Kakadu National Park) remains on a stand-by and in an environmental management phase, the Bureau examined reports received from the State Party, IUCN, the Gundjehmi Aboriginal Corporation and environmental groups.
V.171 The State Party informed the Bureau that the Jabiluka Mineral Lease was granted under Northern Territory legislation in 1982 for a period of 42 years. The operating company has approvals under Australian law to develop the Jabiluka project subject to a number of legislatively binding conditions. Mining at Jabiluka will only commence after mining activities at Ranger start to be scaled down such that both Jabiluka and Ranger will not be in full scale production at the same time. Current estimates of the remaining life of Ranger indicate that mining at Jabiluka could commence between 2008 and 2010. The Company has confirmed that mining will not proceed until there is consent from traditional owners, and not before 2008. In the meantime, the Australian Government continues to monitor the adequacy of environmental protection. Furthermore, the Australian Government has accepted the recommendation of the Independent Scientific Panel (ISP) of ICSU for a formal review to be conducted no less than once every five years.
V.172 The Bureau noted the reports on the first sighting of cane toads (Bufo marinus, an invasive species) in Kakadu National Park on 12 March 2001 and on the development of cane toad mitigation strategies based on a risk assessment.
V.173 The Bureau noted that with higher than average rainfall in early 2001, the mining company has instigated a number of measures to enhance the Interim Water Management Pond (IWMP) to ensure that no contaminated water from the Jabiluka site enters Kakadu National Park. These measures include reducing the catchment of the IWMP to as small an area as practical, storing water in the underground workings, and implementing the reverse osmosis process to purify water in the IWMP to allow irrigation of revegetation areas on site.
V.174 The Bureau recalled that the Committee at its twenty-fourth session in Cairns (2000) requested "the Australian Government allocate resources as soon as possible to enable the implementation of the landscape and ecosystem analysis and monitoring program recommended by the ISP and IUCN and the appointment of a water resource specialist to the Office of the Supervising Scientist". The Committee also requested the Australian Government to establish an Independent Science Advisory Committee (ISAC), which would “… be able to report openly, independently and without restriction”.
V.175 IUCN stated that while there does not now appear to be any likelihood of mining at Jabiluka for many years to come, many conservation and Aboriginal interests remain concerned about the situation at Kakadu. There is special concern over the treatment of wastewater at Jabiluka. IUCN commented that the State Party should move quickly to fulfil its undertakings given in Cairns.
V.176 The Delegate of Australia reported that all their commitments to the Committee in relation to Kakadu National Park are being implemented. He informed the Bureau that resources had been allocated for the implementation of a landscape and ecosystem analysis and monitoring programme. The Supervising Scientist has been conducting discussions with stakeholders including traditional owners on the Kakadu National Park Board of Management, the Environmental Research Institute of the Supervising Scientist (ERISS) and the Kakadu Research Advisory Committee on the scope and content of the program which will:
- focus on the conservation of the natural World Heritage values of Kakadu National Park;
- be capable of distinguishing possible mining related impacts at the landscape scale from effects due to other causes; and,
- provide information for the periodic report of the State Party in 2002.
V.177 The Delegate of Australia informed the Bureau that it is planned for the full programme to commence by the 2001-2002 wet season. Furthermore, the Supervising Scientist, with the support of the principal stakeholders, commenced in March 2001 the first project in the programme whose aim is to describe the distribution and map the extent of major ecosystems within the Alligator Rivers Region.
V.178 The Delegate of Australia also informed the Bureau that the recruitment of a water resource specialist to the Office of the Supervising Scientist is underway. He also noted changes to the membership and role of the existing Alligator Rivers Region Technical Committee (ARRTC) to meet the needs identified by the ISP of ICSU in its recommendation on the establishment of an Independent Science Advisory Committee (ISAC). The Chair and the majority of the voting members will be appointed following selection by the most appropriate body representing Australian scientists and engineers, possibly the Australian Academy of Science.
V.179 He also informed the Bureau that the Supervising Scientist has sought the advice from the existing ARRTC members, which includes representatives of the Aboriginal people of the region, on the fields of expertise that should be covered by the new members to be appointed to meet the recommendations of the ISP of ICSU. This advice has been provided to the Minister for Environment and Heritage.
V.180 The Supervising Scientist has also consulted with scientific colleagues in Australia and with the Secretariats of several possible institutions on the most appropriate body to select the independently appointed members of ARRTC. He recommended to the Minister that the most appropriate body was the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies (FASTS).
V.181 Following a request from the Minister, FASTS conducted a wide-ranging consultation of its member societies to select suitable scientists and engineers as members of the revised ARRTC. FASTS advised the Minister of the names of the 7 persons that it recommends for appointment to ARRTC on 30 May 2001. These recommendations have been accepted unchanged. Letters of appointment are in the process of finalisation and the first meeting of the new committee is expected to take place in September 2001.
V.182 The Bureau recalled that the Committee at its twenty-fourth session in Cairns (2000) "encouraged the State Party and the Mirrar Traditional Owners to resume and continue their efforts in a constructive dialogue, in order to develop together a process leading towards the protection of Kakadu's cultural heritage".
V.183 ICOMOS emphasized the importance of utilizing the postponement of mining operations at the Jabiluka site to deepen the discussion between the Mirrar Traditional Owners and the State Party.
V.184 The Bureau noted information received from the State Party concerning the re-commencement and continuation of the dialogue with the Mirrar Traditional Owners of the mine site and other stakeholders.
V.185 The dialogue between the State Party and traditional owners of the mine area continues, but successful dialogue is a two way process that requires both parties to be willing to communicate. There is ongoing and broader dialogue on the protection of the overall cultural values of Kakadu National Park that continues successfully in the context of the Board of Management of Kakadu National Park, involving traditional owners from all major clan groups. This process is exploring the best means of ensuring the management and protection of the cultural values of Kakadu National Park.
V.186 Five days of productive dialogue with traditional owners from the Gundjehmi Aboriginal Corporation, their executive and staff took place during March and April. There was also substantive discussion with other key stakeholders such as the Northern Land Council, the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority, the Company and the Northern Territory Government. The senior traditional owner and her staff then met with the Minister for Environment and Heritage and held constructive talks, in which the Minister agreed to follow up talks by officials.
V.187 The Delegate of Australia stated that his State Party will continue to report openly and transparently on the dialogue with the Traditional Owners. The State Party stressed that this renewed domestic dialogue and co-operation by all parties is the best means to facilitate agreement for the ongoing protection of Kakadu's cultural values.
V.188 The Bureau also noted details from the State Party of continuing progress, under the Kakadu Regional Social Impact Study (KRSIS), to ensure improvement in the social and economic circumstances (housing, essential services, indigenous education and health care) of Aboriginal people living in the Kakadu region (Annex III) - letter from Environment Australia dated 26 June 2001).
V.189 The Bureau noted the report of the State Party concerning the first sightings of cane toads (Bufo marinus) in Kakadu National Park and commends it for its approach.
V.190 The Bureau requested the State Party to report regularly to the World Heritage Centre on results of monitoring programmes and research activities concerning this issue.
V.191 The Bureau requested that the State Party provide a report by 15 September 2001 for consideration by the twenty-fifth extraordinary session of the Bureau, on the progress with the landscape and ecosystem analysis, the recruitment of the water resource specialist and the establishment of the Independent Science Advisory Committee.
V.192 With reference to the decision of the twenty-fourth session of the Committee encouraging the State Party and the Mirrar Traditional Owners to resume and continue their efforts in a constructive dialogue, the Bureau requested the State Party to keep the World Heritage Centre regularly informed of progress.
V.193 Following the adoption of the recommendation by the Bureau, a representative of the Gundjehmi Aboriginal Corporation read a letter signed by the Senior Traditional Owner, Ms Yvonne Margarula (see Annex IV).
V.194 A response from Environment Australia to the letter of the Gundjehmi Aboriginal Corporation was circulated and the Bureau agreed that it be incorporated into the record of the meeting (see Annex V - letter from Mr Roger Beale dated 27 June 2001).
The Bureau may wish to adopt the following:
"The Bureau commends the State Party on its efforts to implement the Independent Scientific Panel (ISP) of ICSU recommendation by establishing the ISAC in such a way that it will be able to report openly, independently and without restriction. The Bureau urges the State Party to:
a) invite a representative from the conservation NGO community to join the ISAC
b) refer as a matter of urgency the two issues - the urgent rehabilitation of the Jabiluka mine and the water management problems – to the next meeting of the ISAC.
c) provide a report, by 1 February 2002, on these two issues.
Kakadu National Park
- Invasive/alien terrestrial species
- Management systems/ management plan
The threats indicated are listed in alphabetical order; their order does not constitute a classification according to the importance of their impact on the property.
Furthermore, they are presented irrespective of the type of threat faced by the property, i.e. with specific and proven imminent danger (“ascertained danger”) or with threats which could have deleterious effects on the property’s Outstanding Universal Value (“potential danger”).