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
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”).