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Initial impacts

p. 37-48

Texte intégral

1At the end of the interviews conducted with the various stakeholders involved in the transformation of research outcomes, their contributions enabled us to characterize proven impacts that have led to long-term changes in the functioning of a societal group (farmers, industrial operators, lawyers, politicians, the population at large, etc.) in a specific field. We sought to identify these fields by developing a typology of impacts, divided into six types of impact:

  • institutional;
  • economic;
  • capacity building, furthering of scientific expertise;
  • social, health, educational and cultural;
  • environmental;
  • academic.

2Impacts were identified and characterized in each of these categories. Under no circumstances do we claim to present an exhaustive view of the positive or negative impacts that may result from the research results we have considered in this study. Our findings are based solely on the impacts we were able to document from the interviews we conducted for this study.


Creation of the CNRT “Nickel and its environment”

3A research funding agency was created to enable the concerted multi-stakeholder programming of research project orientations and funding. The research team that moved to Nouméa in 2002 was instructed to establish a new research centre (the future CNRT). The success of the CNRT can certainly be attributed to the proposal to design this structure jointly and collegially with all the public and private partners. This required eight years of consultation and the adaptation of objectives. Indeed, links needed to be developed between members of very different cultures – mining operators, the government, provincial communities and researchers, including those in the HSS field. The project was finally implemented in 2008. The CNRT, established as a Public Interest Group (GIP), has a board of directors consisting of 15 members, one third representing mining operators including the mining industries union, one third representing local public authorities and the French State, and one third representing scientific institutions including IRD. It is the product of the research consortia development, trust and expertise during the previous 2000-2008 period, and the appropriation of research outcomes that convinced the different stakeholders of the value-added benefits of such a proposal and, with support from the State, enabled the establishment of this centre which is responsible for collecting funds from different sources: provincial authorities, the Government of New Caledonia, the State, mining operators (€5 million for a five-year mandate), which are redistributed in the form of calls for projects whose themes are decided according to a three-stage process: 1) requests from stakeholders; 2) formulation in terms of research programming with assistance from a Scientific and Approval Board; 3) calls for research projects, monitoring and dissemination of reports. Stakeholders are consulted at all levels and Dialogue is encouraged. Since 2007, two five-year contracts have been carried out and 45 projects have been co-financed. Document 7 presents the CNRT’s activity report between 2007 and 2017.

4The model has proven its worth and is now cited as an example by President Emmanuel Macron during his visits to other French overseas regions such as Guyana (Document 8). Even though the model is perfectible and must be adapted to specific contexts (type of ore, exploitation, ecosystems, and societal and political contexts), the method is reproducible and takes account of local specificities.

Creation of the New Caledonia Environmental Observatory: L’Œil (The Eye)

5In 2008, an environmental observatory was established to monitor the territory, inform the population and leaders, and support industrial operators. The monitoring stations mentioned previously have been at the forefront of the L’Œil1 observatory’s activities, and have undoubtedly helped to demonstrate the value-added benefits of the monitoring measures and the scientific relevance of the indicators proposed by the researchers. The L’Œil observatory was created in response to demands from local associations received by the South Province, and upon the proposal of IRD researchers (Cerege/Camélia) who carried out the feasibility study and supported its creation in close collaboration with the South Province’s Environment Department (DENV). It plays a key role at the policy level by monitoring the impact of mining activity in the South Province.

6The L’Œil has a tripartite board of directors: industrial mining operators/South Province/NGOs. The observatory has a Scientific Board that approves analyses before their dissemination. It is composed of 22 members, half of whom are from outside New Caledonia. It also carries out scientific monitoring to check whether the indicators can be optimised and, if so, calls for projects can be launched to give researchers an opportunity to contribute to this optimisation.

7The L’Œil’s activity reports present all the activities and impacts listed in Document 9 (available online at www.oeil.nc).

8An external audit carried out by the L’Œil observatory in 2013 (Document 10) highlighted several impacts:

  • launching studies to define environmental monitoring indicators (e.g. three working groups on freshwater, marine and terrestrial environments and the optimisation of some twenty indicators);
  • helping to finalise certain indicators, such as the IBNC30, develop reliable and comparable monitoring methods, and new indicators (fresh water: diatom indicator; marine waters: fishing pressure indicator; terrestrial environments: land take indicator);
  • based on an information exchange charter (Document 11), gathering available information about the state of the environment in southern New Caledonia (e.g. 2,500 references entered) and pressures, and bridging the current gaps in environmental information;
  • helping to set up monitoring systems for certain environmental parameters (e.g. 18 indicators used for monitoring);
  • launching studies to complete missing environmental data (e.g. production of 70 environmental studies), and production of thematic summaries;
  • creating a battery of very well constructed and widely disseminated communication tools for sharing the information collected: website, mapping tools, newsletters printed in 25,000 copies, publications, 10 to 20 public meetings per year, etc., and the survey conducted in 2012 shows that 25% of the population of the Southern Province know about the L’Œil observatory;
  • responding very quickly to accidents occurring in the area in order to provide the public with quick and reliable information;
  • gaining the confidence of local people and probably of the general public through transparent activities;
  • contributing to certain regulations that have been inspired by recommendations made by the L’Œil observatory, e.g. the law defining rainforest protection.


Improvement of procedures for prospecting and exploitingmining areas

9The standards and guides produced as a result of research activities have enabled modifications to be made to the Mining Code (documents 12 and 13), which have had a direct impact on the practices of mining professionals. Dimenc plays an important role in these processes. The introduction of the Mining Code in 2009 made it possible to abandon the regulations proposed by Australian legislation that were ill-suited to this region, and adapt metropolitan regulations to take account of New Caledonia’s specificities (political, societal, environmental, geographical, geological and biological). Developments in prospection generate considerable savings while reducing destructive impacts. These new techniques and knowledge enable mining operators to limit the number of boreholes drilled. Examples include the use of electrical resistivity tomography, 3D imaging of mineralized regoliths, and a variety of airborne geophysical methods facilitating more focused prospecting and in this way reducing the size of the prospection area from 200 ha to 10 ha, for example, which requires less drilling. Given that one borehole costs 1 million CFP francs, the savings are appreciable.

10Detailed knowledge of lateritic ores that can be exploited by hydrometallurgy, including mineralogical speciation of nickel and cobalt, has also improved the efficiency of mineralurgical processes.

11With regard to land, mining operators hare required to restore the soils they strip off, which is a strong negative impact from an economic standpoint, in light of the cost of remediation as required by the Environmental Code. According to the research carried out in this field, this cost is estimated at around €20,000/ha if it is not carried out progressively throughout the mining operations, not counting the inherent loss of ecosystem services, which is estimated at €50,000/ha, and the risks of erosion and hyper-sedimentation of rivers and the lagoon. The research outcomes also enable mining operators to reduce these costs by simultaneously managing the mining operations and the conservation of certain ecosystems and stripped soils, and by restoring them more effectively and efficiently.

Encouraging and facilitating the creation of innovative enterprises by making innovative services linked to job creation available to stakeholders

12The IRD research centre in Nouméa established a start-up incubator in 2007. This incubator was subsequently part of Adecal-technopole-IRD in 2014. It has given several students who completed their thesis or followed a postdoctoral internship at the Nouméa research centre, and engineers from IRD joint research units, opportunities to create their own innovative start-ups in a favourable scientific and public-private partnership environment:

  • The GeophysiCAL consultancy specialising in tomography2. Created in 2005, it left the incubator in 2010. The director currently laments the lack of links with research, which she sees as detrimental to her capacity to evolve and to ensure that research remains in touch with practical issues in the field.
  • The Environmental Analysis Laboratory AEL3, which remains on the IRD site, sharing equipment and facilities with the centre. It maintains close partnerships with certain research units (IMPMC and MOI) on the development of new analytical methods.
  • Bluecham a company that develops operational environmental decision support solutions, is also still based at the centre. It maintains close links with certain Joint Research Units and has won numerous international prizes in recognition for its innovations (data interoperability and spatio-temporal analysis from satellite to field).
  • The Biocénose Marine4 (Marine Biocenosis) company combines research and expertise in monitoring the marine environment, and works on the IRD site in close collaboration with the Entropie (Entropy) Joint Research Unit.
  • GIE Océanide, a centre of expertise and research for the integrated management of territories and the environment, based at the IRD centre with the Espace-Dev laboratory.

13And based outside the incubator:

  • BOta Environnement is a company involved in land restoration.

14In the North Province, Koniambo Nickel SAS-KNS5 has created more than 700 companies that subcontract numerous economic activities associated with the development of the Glencore-SMSP project, including analysis laboratories, seed-harvesting companies and plantations for restoration, all driven by a highly developed corporate social responsibility policy.

Involvement of the population in the creation of satellite nurseries

15Other enterprises have been created by Kanak groups within their tribes, close to the mining sites. In the South Province, it all started with the “Pact for a Sustainable Development of the Greater South” which included the inclusion of the local population in land remediation projects. The construction of satellite nurseries in connection with the mine nursery was proposed.

16These satellite nurseries in the Southern Province are run by families from the local Kanak tribes, and cultivate plants for land restoration. The families were selected after a call for applications, based on the ecosystemic quality of the property they owned. This activity is a significant source of Income for these families. The price paid can be estimated at approximately 220 CFP francs per plant with a guaranteed order of 200,000 plants per year.

17It should be noted, however, that choosing the families on the basis of their land ownership has led other families to question the distribution of land within the tribes.

Job creation

18As shown by the results for capacity building (below), many students have been trained and have gone on to start their own businesses. They have then hired their own staff, who have been trained and joined either the industrial mining operators (the biggest being SLN, Vale-NC, and Glencore-SMSP), or other international companies and consulting firms such as Golder Associate. Some of the students trained in research and through research during the 2001-2008 period now hold senior positions at mining companies: the knowledge developed and the acquisition of a common “research” language perpetuate the trust-based relationship established with the research community, and continue to contribute to the creation of public-private consortia that enable the improvement of mining practices and the development, through research, of an increasingly virtuous circle.

19The number of permanent jobs generated can be estimated at around 100.

Capacity-building, furthering of scientific expertise

Continuation of a course of study for students

20Different study programmes have been established throughout this period, on a more or less permanent basis. One remains active to this day: the Master’s degree in Environmental Management created by the University of New Caledonia. IRD researchers are not directly involved in this master’s degree but it is partly based on the research outcomes acquired. The students trained on this programme are recruited by industrial mining operators and public authorities.

Towards participatory science

21The dissemination of information to the general public has improved and a well-informed community has been created, including the creation of the New Caledonian Mycological Society (SMNC). The SMNC’s mission is to educate and disseminate knowledge, in order to raise awareness among people interested in these aspects in New Caledonia. The Society currently has 433 members and 462 website subscribers. It participates in science festivals, organizes conferences and debates, exhibitions and field trips.

22For their part, citizens can share the discoveries they make and thus help to increase the capacity to explore new areas and make new discoveries in accordance with best practices.

Vocational training of Kanak families and perpetuation of innovative knowledge promoting the creation of business opportunities

23The involvement of Kanak families in the production of seedlings of endemic species to be used by mining operators for land restoration, required these farmers to be trained in cultivation methods that are adapted to the germination and growth of several plant species. In the South, for example, a local association – Adevy – manages this training, which enables the local community to increase its capacities, and to conserve and cultivate endemic species that are particularly difficult to cultivate.

Greenhouse managed by the Digoue family, a local operator subcontracted by the Vale-NC company. Romain Barrière, manager of the Botanic company and Annie Digoue, greenhouse manager, in the Goro region.


© IRD/I. Henry

Health, social, educational and cultural issues

Better protection for mine workers exposed to asbestos dust

24The characterisation of the different forms of asbestos (different mineral species and different morphologies) likely to cause cancer, has enabled the introduction of regulations to protect people from asbestos dust, on nickel mining sites as well as, more generally, in certain other specific geological environments with a high risk of asbestos dispersion and contamination of the population. Regulations have been put in place; Documents 14 and 15 are examples of orders concerning the protection of workers.


Implementation of the provincial Environmental Codes

25The Environmental Codes of the North Province (Document 16) and South Province (Document 17) set out the mining regulations to be followed in terms of the monitoring of polluting processes and post-mining restoration. These rules are available for consultation and are universally applicable in order to perpetuate virtuous environmental practices. They are inspired by the land restoration guide, which is one of the research outcomes and also one of the published research works (reports, publications, doctoral theses). It should be noted that the ongoing links between research and the public authorities enables the continued integration of research outcomes into these documents.

26The existence of these Environmental Codes has influenced the implementation of decrees that compel miners to remediate soils and manage water. Two examples of operating orders are presented in Documents 18 and 19. Miners are encouraged to move away from “green washing” and instead adopt an ecosystemic approach to restoration, which involves combining at least five different species on a restoration site.

27The various regulatory documents (Mining Code, Environmental Codes and some of the L’Œil observatory’s recommendations) are interlinked and complementary.


28In this section, we have only mentioned the major academic impacts that are real advances for research and not continuations of work on the topic in the laboratory.

Towards the financing of multidisciplinary consortia

29The results obtained by the research teams have undoubtedly enabled funding to be obtained from the ANR and Europe:

  • 2006-2008: ANR Écosphère continentale et risques environnementaux (Ecco Niko Continental atmosphère and environmental risks) project: “Biogéochimie des éléments métalliques dans le continuum sol/eau/microorganismes/plantes des écosystèmes latéritiques de Nouvelle-Calédonie : activités anthropiques vs cycle naturel” (Biogeochemistry of metallic elements in the soil/water/microorganisms/plants continuum of lateritic ecosystems in New Caledonia: anthropogenic activities vs natural cycle), coordinated by IRD;
  • 2007-2010 : ANR Ultrabio project: “Biodiversité et stratégies adaptatives végétales et microbiennes des écosystèmes ultramafiques en Nouvelle-Calédonie” (Biodiversity and adaptive plant and microbial strategies of ultramafic ecosystems in New Caledonia), coordinated by IRD;
  • European EDF Sysmin 2007 programme (with the involvement of IRD);
  • European Inco-NET PACE-NET programme from 2008: networking of stakeholders in the Pacific (coordinated by IRD).

Restoring legitimacy to human and social sciences

30Prior to reflecting on the programming, research in the human and social sciences (HSS) needed to be revitalised. In accordance with the roadmap originating from the 2003 international symposium, a researcher was asked to visit the field in 2008 in order to develop the HSS dimension of “Mines and Society” issues. The researcher’s arrival improved the consideration of important societal issues in the calls for projects launched by the CNRT: i) mining governance; ii) land tenure and emerging conflicts; iii) small-scale mining enterprises. Although an impact was observed, it remained relative. However, it is included in the CNRT’s report (Document 7).

Creation of the Agora-HSS network

31The Agora association emerged as a creator of links between scientific institutions following the eponymous workshops in 2006 and the White Paper on the development of HSS. This go-between organisation had an impact on the development of HSS in general, and on the “Mines and Society” topic in particular from 2006 to 2011.

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