State of Conservation (SOC)
Kakadu National Park (2002)
UNESCO Extra-Budgetary Funds
International Assistance granted to the property
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
- Presence of cane toads (Bufo marinus) in Kakadu National Park
Current conservation issues
Investigation of contaminated water leaks, stockpiling incidents and reporting delays at Ranger uranium mine and the Jabiluka mineral lease:
The World Heritage Centre has received reports from the State Party, environmental NGOs in Australia and the Gundjehmi Aboriginal Corporation (GAC) in relation to incorrect stockpiling of material at the Ranger mine site, contaminated water leaks at both Ranger and the Jabiluka mineral lease in early 2002 and delayed reporting of monitoring data from both sites by the mining company Energy Resources of Australia Ltd. (ERA).
The main incident at Ranger involved runoff from a previously compacted stockpile of low-grade ore following incorrect addition of non-compacted material. The un-compacted material caused rainfall runoff to have high concentrations of uranium – up to 2000 parts per billion.
Submissions from the Gundjehmi Aboriginal Corporation (GAC) and environmental NGOs note, amongst other concerns, the failure of ERA to report the elevated levels of uranium at Ranger and downstream of Jabiluka for 5-6 weeks, despite the levels detected being above those required for reporting.
The Commonwealth Minister for the Environment and Heritage in Australia requested a report from the Supervising Scientist on the January-February 2002 incident at Ranger.
In preparing the report, the Supervising Scientist met with all stakeholders to discuss the incidents, and the report takes into account the views of the GAC. The report concludes that the environment and people downstream of the mine were not at risk at any time during or after the incident, with the constructed wetland filter system at Ranger functioning effectively. The State Party has reported that the GAC, the Northern Land Council, the Northern Territory Government regulators and the Director of National Parks have all acknowledged their support of this conclusion.
However, the report of the Supervising Scientist identifies deficiencies in the internal communication and reporting systems, data review procedures, and environmental management plan implementation protocols of the mine operator. In response, ERA has agreed with the Supervising Scientist, Northern Land Council and the Northern Territory Government to commit to improving the environmental management systems at Ranger and Jabiluka, by becoming compliant with ISO14001 (an international accreditation for effective environmental management) by July 2003 and being certified against ISO14001 by July 2005.
The Minister for the Environment and Heritage has received the report. Further information will be provided by the State Party once the Minister has considered the recommendations of the Supervising Scientist.
The report can be accessed at: http://www.ea.gov.au/ssd/ publications/incidents/index.html.
The GAC submission notes that in the June 2000 report “Investigation of tailings water leak at the Ranger mine”, the Supervising Scientist made 17 recommendations to improve the environmental and reporting performance at Ranger. Three recommendations related specifically to: the identification and reporting of mine-related incidents that, “could be perceived to be of concern to the local Aboriginal people or the broader community”; the development of early warning systems, and improving communications with external stakeholders.
GAC cites the ERA investigation report into the January-February 2002 incident at Ranger, which states that while the company, “commits to the full implementation of the recommendations of the Supervising Scientist from the leak incident in 2000… full compliance with the recommendations cannot be achieved with current ERA resources”.
The GAC submission states that, in relation to the desired rehabilitation of the Jabiluka mineral lease, the accepted norm in the mining industry is that all wastes are accommodated on-site within the mineral lease. The GAC request that mineralized material should be used to backfill the Jabiluka decline and not be transported to exacerbate problems at Ranger.
Allegations about poor environmental management practices at the Ranger uranium mine
In addition, allegations were recently forwarded to the Supervising Scientist from a former senior environmental chemist at the Ranger mine regarding incidents of poor environmental management practices by ERA in 1997 and 1998. The Supervising Scientist, in consultation with the Northern Territory Government, is conducting an investigation into these allegations.
Alligator Rivers Region Technical Committee (ARRTC)
At its 25th session (Helsinki, 2001), the World Heritage Committee welcomed the advice that the State Party would raise the IUCN suggestion of an NGO representative on the independent scientific advisory committee, the Alligator Rivers Region Technical Committee (ARRTC), with the Chair of ARRTC. Furthermore, the State Party agreed to refer water management issues for consideration by ARRTC, as appropriate. The World Heritage Committee requested a report from the State Party for consideration at its 26th session in 2002.
The State Party has informed the World Heritage Centre that the membership of the ARRTC was revised in 2001. This was based on the recommendation of the Independent Science Panel of ICSU (International Council for Science), following its review of the Jabiluka project on behalf of the World Heritage Committee in 1999/2000.
The State Party has also informed the Centre that the suggestion of the addition of an environmental NGO representative on ARRTC and water management issues were referred to the Chair of ARRTC for consideration and were discussed by the Technical Committee at their February 2002 meeting. ARRTC considered the written material from the World Heritage Committee on this issue and received a presentation from representatives of the Gundjehmi Aboriginal Corporation and the Mirrar Traditional Owners. The State Party has reported that ARRTC is not in principle averse to the appointment of a conservation NGO representative, however, they did not support the specific proposal placed before it by the Environment Centre Northern Territory and the Gundjehmi Aboriginal Corporation. The ARRTC noted that that proposal would not significantly enhance the standing or capacity of ARRTC.
The State Party has reported that ARRTC also considered the issue of access of the Mirrar Traditional Owners to ARRTC, and encouraged the Gundjehmi Aboriginal Corporation to develop avenues for involvement in the deliberations of ARRTC through their statutory representative, the Northern Land Council. A planned meeting between ARRTC and Traditional Owners was postponed at the request of the traditional owners. This meeting will take place during the next ARRTC meeting from 9-11 September 2002.
The resolutions of the latest ARRTC meeting will be made available at http://www.ea.gov.au/ssd/communication/ committees/arrtc/meeting.html. The Minister is considering the independent advice from ARRTC about the appropriate membership of the Technical Committee contained in the resolutions. Further information will be provided to the Centre once the Minister has made his decision.
The State Party has also reported that at its meeting in February 2002, ARRTC considered the issue of water management at Jabiluka as requested by the World Heritage Committee. ARRTC considered that the Water Management System implemented at Jabiluka for the 2001/2002 Wet Season is protecting the aquatic ecosystems downstream of Jabiluka. ARRTC recommended that adequate time be taken to assess all long-term water management issues and options. ARRTC will consider the issue further at its next meeting.
Comments from IUCN:
IUCN recalls the decisions taken on Kakadu National Park at previous meetings of the World Heritage Committee, which provide the context in which the latest developments should be considered.
IUCN considers there are four essential requirements that are implied by the past decisions and deliberations of the Committee that the State Party has been called upon to meet:
· Effective systems of monitoring and management by the company operating the mines (ERA);
· Independent and transparent scientific oversight by the ARRTC/ISAC and Supervising Scientist;
· Effective engagement of key stakeholders, particularly traditional owners, including involvement in matters relating to decision making;
· Prompt action by the State Party to address failings.
IUCN considers that recent incidents at Ranger and Jabiluka suggest that progress on all these requirements has been disappointing. Unless confidence is restored, IUCN will be obliged to return to the World Heritage Committee and recommend that Kakadu National Park be placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger. IUCN considers the following as essential elements of this confidence building:
1. Prompt reporting on leakages: IUCN notes with concern the continuing water management issues and problems of contaminated water leaks from the Ranger and Jabiluka uranium mines located in enclaves within the Kakadu National Park. IUCN is also concerned about apparent failings in the internal management systems of the company responsible for mines in Kakadu, Energy Resources of Australia. These include delays in required notification of elevated uranium levels at both mines and inadequate management of ore stockpiles at the Ranger mine. IUCN believes that similar regulatory reporting procedures should operate at both mines and that ERA needs to report on all leaks as soon as detected, irrespective of whether the source of the leak has been determined or not.
2. Meeting environmental standards: IUCN notes the ERA commitment to meeting ISO14001 standards of environmental management at both Jabiluka and Ranger, however expresses concern that as ERA has indicated that it does not currently have the resources to meet the recommendations of the 2000 leakage report, it will not be able to fully meet the new standards. IUCN considers ERA must outline how it intends to fully meet the new, more stringent conditions, as soon as possible.
3. Rehabilitation of Jabiluka mine site: IUCN reiterates its previously stated position of the IUCN Council that the desired outcome at Jabiluka should be the removal of the stockpile of ore at the site and subsequent rehabilitation of the mine site to a condition appropriate for inclusion within the Kakadu National Park World Heritage Area. IUCN also notes the position of the Mirrar with respect to the removal of ore from the site and accepts that the rehabilitation of the site may be achieved through appropriate disposal of the stockpile in the mine.
4. Appointment of environmental NGO to ARRTC: IUCN notes that no environmental NGO has yet been appointed to the ARTTC/ISAC, in line with its recommendation to the 25th session of the Committee, though the ARRTC is not averse to the idea in principle. IUCN considers this reasonable request should be addressed as a priority.
5. Effective operation of ARRTC: IUCN recommends that the Committee request the State Party to refer the latest incidents to the ARRTC/ISAC as a matter of urgency. IUCN also recommends that the State Party be requested to keep the Committee informed on the deliberations of the ARTTC/ISAC.
Cultural heritage protection:
At its 25th session, the Committee (Helsinki, 2001) requested that a report on the process to analyze, define and manage the cultural values of areas on Mirrar land, including the Jabiluka mineral lease and other ongoing measures to protect the cultural values of Kakadu National Park should be provided to the 27th session of the Committee (June 2003)
The State Party has informed the World Heritage Centre that a workshop was held at Jabiru from 16 to 17 April 2002 with the Gundjehmi Aboriginal Corporation to provide an understanding of the Australian Heritage Commission’s Protecting Heritage Places Kit. The workshop was chaired by the President of Australia ICOMOS, and was facilitated by a representative of the Australian Heritage Commission, with an observer from Environment Australia. The workshop offered suggestions on methodology to be employed and provided briefing on matters related to the protection of Kakadu’s cultural heritage, notably the Australia ICOMOS Burra Charter that the Gundjehmi Aboriginal Corporation will consider using to address cultural heritage protection and management issues on Mirrar land.
Comments from ICOMOS:
ICOMOS will comment on the new information concerning cultural heritage protection following receipt of a report from Australia ICOMOS.
Link to the decision
The World Heritage Committee,
1. Expresses its concern to the State Party about new leaks of contaminated water at the Ranger uranium mine and the Jabiluka mineral lease adjacent to Kakadu National Park. The Committee is also concerned about reported shortcomings in the regulatory reporting procedures at both mine sites and deficiencies in the management of ore stockpiles at the Ranger mine which reduce public confidence, in the management and monitoring of the two sites. Finally, the Committee stresses the need to adopt a strict environmental regime appropriate to a World Heritage property;
2. Notes the report of the Supervising Scientist which concluded that the environment and people downstream of the mine were not at risk at any time during or after the incident. Nevertheless, the State Party recognizes the need to follow international best practice. To this end the Minister for Environment and Heritage has discussed these issues with the Traditional Owners of Kakadu, Energy Resources of Australia Ltd. (ERA) and the Supervising Scientist;
3. Notes that the State Party has reported that the mining company has made a commitment to meet ISO14001 standards of environmental management at both Jabiluka and Ranger by July 2003;
4. Requests the State Party to provide details of how these new, more stringent conditions will be fully met by ERA;
5. Notes that the State Party will co-operate with the Australian Senate Inquiry which will examine the regulatory, monitoring and reporting regimes at Ranger, Jabiluka and uranium operations elsewhere in Australia. The State Party will also co-operate with the Northern Territory technical review into the regulation of the Ranger and Jabiluka operations;
6. Welcomes the fact that the Minister has decided to appoint a suitably qualified conservation NGO representative to the Alligator Rivers Region Technical Committee (ARRTC), and will consult with NGOs on this appointment. ARRTC, at the request of the World Heritage Committee, continues to monitor and review the water management and other environmental issues at Jabiluka and Ranger, including those referred to in document WHC-02/CONF.202/17;
7. Is pleased to note with satisfaction that a cultural heritage management workshop was recently organized by Australia ICOMOS and the Gundjehmi Aboriginal Corporation with the support of Environment Australia. The Committee requests ICOMOS to keep the World Heritage Centre informed of continuing co-operative efforts with Traditional Owners in this regard;8. Requests that the State Party report on progress on all the issues raised above by 1 February 2003 for review by its 27th session in June/July 2003.
The Committee may wish to adopt the following decision:
1. "The World Heritage Committee expresses its concern to the State Party about new leaks of contaminated water at the Ranger uranium mine and the Jabiluka mineral lease adjacent to Kakadu National Park (Australia). The Committee is also concerned about reported shortcomings in the regulatory reporting procedures at both mine sites and deficiencies in the management of ore stockpiles at the Ranger mine which reduce public confidence, in the management and monitoring of the two sites. Finally, the Committee stresses the need for a strict environmental regime appropriate to a World Heritage property.
2. The Committee notes however that the State Party has reported that the mining company, Energy Resources of Australia Ltd. (ERA), has made a commitment to meet ISO14001 standards of environmental management at both Jabiluka and Ranger by July 2003. The Committee requests the State Party to provide details of how these new, more stringent conditions will be fully met by ERA.
3. The World Heritage Committee notes that the Alligator Rivers Region Technical Committee (ARRTC) is not, in principle, averse to the suggestion of including a representative of an environmental NGO on the ARRTC. The Committee requests that the decision on this appointment by the Minister for Environment and Heritage be communicated to the World Heritage Centre as soon as possible. Furthermore, the Committee requests the State Party to refer the latest incidents at Ranger and Jabiluka to the ARRTC as a matter of urgency and to continue to keep the Centre informed about the deliberations of the ARTTC.
4. The World Heritage Committee is pleased to note that a cultural heritage management workshop was recently organized with the Gundjehmi Aboriginal Corporation. The Committee requests the State Party to continue to keep it informed of continuing co-operative efforts with Traditional Owners in this regard.
5. The Committee urges the State Party to address all the issues raised above and report on progress to the 27th session of the World Heritage Committee (June 2003), at which time the information will be reviewed."
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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”).