Cook Island's Prime Minister Mark Brown says he plans on protecting the country against climate change through seabed mining.
Speaking to RNZ Pacific in Rarotonga on Wednesday, Brown said he views the Cook Islands as environmental stewards of the ocean.
"The issue of seabed minerals has now come to the fore and some of our member countries in the Pacific, including the Cook Islands have taken a stand to look at exploration of the potential of seabed minerals," Brown said.
"But let's not forget the key theme behind our exploration phase is the protection of our marine environment to ensure that before we take the next steps, towards harvesting any of this mineral wealth, that it must be done in a way that ensures the protection of our oceans.
Brown said the Pacific leaders were "unanimous in their particular stand" and as a result "there is no mining taking place anywhere in the Pacific or the world".
"We're very much focused on gaining the knowledge and understanding to enable us to make the decision whether we do take the next step, or whether we don't make the next step because it will be too environmentally damaging."
Brown believes the issue of seabed mining is similar to how the Pacific has managed its fisheries.
"We have some of our member countries in the Pacific have very strong stand against any sort of commercial fishing the waters and don't allow any sort of licensing in our waters, we have some of our members who are very strongly dependent on fisheries.
"What we've done as a region that is put in place a framework to manage our fisheries, which recognises and respects the position of some countries who are dependent on fisheries and recognizes and respects the position of those countries who do not allow any fisheries to take place.
"We see the same sort of reciprocal respect for the positions at countries have taken in terms of seabed minerals."
Brown said the Cook Islands was not putting money before the environment and will not do anything that was going to harm or damage the ocean.
"We're putting this in the front of being able to protect our country from the impacts of climate change. We know the impacts of climate change, the building of resilience against the impacts of climate change will cost just in our country alone hundreds of millions of dollars. That money is not coming from any of the countries that have pledged toward protecting countries like ours from the impacts of climate change."
When asked if that meant protecting the Cook Islands against climate change by seabed mining, Brown said: "Protecting the country against the impacts of climate change by helping build resilience."
"Building resilience takes money. We're not getting the money that we need to be able to build the resilience from those countries who are contributing to carbon emissions and earning not billions of dollars but trillions of dollars from their carbon emissions."
Some deep-sea areas within the Cook Islands contain valuable minerals.
There are no companies mining the ocean floor in the Cook Islands, but exploration work is under way.
Brown said Cook Islands has always maintained that it adheres to the principles enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
"These principles are enshrined in our legislation. We see ourselves as environmental stewards of our ocean, we will not do anything in our ocean that is going to harm or damage our ocean."
"What we are looking at is the potential that our ocean is providing to us, to help us protect ourselves and to build the prosperity levels of our people," he said.
'Reconsider position' urges campaigner
Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG) deputy coordinator Joey Tau told RNZ Pacific that Brown's comments raise the question of being environmental stewards as Pacific peoples.
"In response to the Cook Islands Prime Minister there are growing concerns not only within the Pacific, but in the international community," Tau said.
"Even at the International Seabed Authority, where the international community and the science and the legal narratives around [seabed mining] call for caution, that we cannot be looking at exploiting this this rare earth minerals."
Tau said scientific data available is already saying the process of extracting seabed minerals will have major impacts on the current climate crisis.
"We hope the Cook Islands Prime Minister in his leadership not only as the leader of the Cook Islands, but one who is a sponsoring state and who currently assumes the role of the chair of the Pacific Forum to reconsider his position," he said.
"There is growing calls for a moratorium within the Pacific and that the international arena to take heed of these concerns and reconsider to really understand our ocean, to understand the depths and to understand the possible impact this destructive industry would have on our ocean on a place where we call home," he added.