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New Caledonia, a specific full size research laboratory to investigate lateritic Mining resources exploitation development, governance, impacts over the last century and to promote a new model for responsible mining
  • Fabrice Colin
Fabrice Colin
French Research Institute for Sustainable Development

Corresponding Author:fabrice.colin@ird.fr

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New Caledonia owns about 25% of the world’s nickel resources, and around 9% of the world’s reserves, distributed over 300,000 hectares of concessions allocated to date (18% of the total surface of the main island). Supergene weathering of ultramafic rocks have led to the genesis of lateritic nickel-rich ores of garnierite type (NiO> 1.5%) and / or iron oxi-hydroxide type (NiO <1.5%) under tropical lateritic conditions that have prevailed over 30 millions of years. These conditions have shaped the landscapes while offering Ni-rich regolith easy to exploit by open pit mining. Since 1880, nickel has been so far used as an economic driver and a societal development impetus. Since 1998, three worldwide projects have been developed, using pyrometallurgy (Ni-Si) and more recently hydrometallurgy (Ni-Fe) ore processes. However, natural erosion, anthropogenic disturbances (climate change, fires, urbanization, mining) can add up to disrupt the whole terrestrial and marine ecosystem functioning at the regional scale.This critical mined zone is covered by terrestrial ecosystems of great endemic biodiversity and adjoining a lagoon that has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008. Such ecosystems are a valuable natural resource for the sustainable future for the next generations. Are mining and preserving ecosystems compatible, and for what economic and societal model? The conference reviews a collective research approach (mining, terrestrial and marine ecosystems impacts, restoration, biorecycling) to address this question. The corpus of acquired knowledge allows to propose an inclusive model of responsible mining activity, based on the “co-valorization” of both non-renewable and renewable primary resources through the development of circular economy and bio-economy principles, and applied all along the “mining ecosystem” project management. Considering i)the present day low GDP input of nickel mining in New Caledonia, the 98% dependency rate from fossil sources of energy, the CO2 emissions and the volatile Ni-market international context, this model, if followed, will reinforce the societal cohesion and develop a sustainable economy diversification, while enhancing energy transition and a better ecological efficiency.