As the UN Ocean Conference gets underway and global attention turns towards the ocean, political resistance to the emerging deep-sea mining industry gains traction as Palau, Samoa. Fiji, Guam and 57 Parliamentarians all call for a halt to the destructive industry.
Yesterday the President of Palau, Surangel Whipps, Jr. joined the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition and WWF at an official conference side event in Lisbon, calling on behalf of his government for an immediate moratorium on deep-sea mining. As the leader of the global call, the President launched the new Alliance of Countries Calling for a Deep-Sea Mining Moratorium. Oceanographer and marine biologist, Dr. Sylvia Earle, and Debbie Ngawera-Packer, Co-leader Te Pāti Māori, Member of Parliament, Aotearoa/New Zealand joined the President of Palau at the event to explore the wonders of the deep and the critical action needed to protect in the face of destructive mining.
During the meeting of States Parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea from 13-17 June at UN headquarters in New York, the government of Chile called for a 15 year moratorium on adopting regulations that would open the deep-sea in the international areas of the oceans to large-scale deep-sea mining.
The international Seabed Authority (ISA) is currently engaged in an accelerated process of negotiating regulations to allow deep-sea mining with a view to finalizing and adopted the regulations by July 2023. Chile has called on the 167 countries that are members of the ISA to agree to extend this ‘deadline’ to adopt regulations for another 15 years.
In a written submission to the meeting at the United Nations, Chile urged “That States Parties agree to extend the deadline for the elaboration of such rules, regulations and procedures [for allowing deep-sea mining], contained in subparagraph b of the aforementioned paragraph for a period of 15 years, in order to obtain more evidence and scientific certainty to ensure the protection of the marine environment.”
The submission highlighted the damage that deep-sea mining could cause if allowed to go ahead and the lack of sufficient scientific information to effectively monitor and prevent damage from deep-sea mining. It also pointed out that the global pandemic has prevented a thorough discussion on whether deep-sea mining should be allowed and, if so, under what circumstances.
The Deep Sea Conservation welcomes Chile’s call for a moratorium for the reasons outlined in the submission and is also calling for a review and reform of the ISA, in particular its decision-making structure, to better reflect the obligation in the UN Law of the Sea that the ISA operation “for the benefit of” and “on behalf of” humankind as a whole.
The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC) and the Deep Sea Mining Campaign (DSMC) are calling on the International Seabed Authority (ISA) not to follow prospective deep-sea miners, The Metals Company (TMC), into the abyss as the company’s shares plummet towards $1 and momentum for a halt to the industry builds. An earlier seabed mining company, Nautilus, previously went into liquidation.
This week, G7 Ministers of Climate, Energy and the Environment met in Berlin, ahead of the 48th summit, set to take place in June to address the multiple crises that are endangering our climate and environment and today issued a meeting communiqué.
On the positive side, it is good to see that the G7 ministers are “Fully aware of the potentially devastating impacts [of deep-sea mining] on marine ecosystems and the functioning of the ocean as a climate regulator”; that they “will continue enhancing knowledge on the deep sea, its unique ecosystems and the impacts of possible deep-sea mining” and presumably develop a “robust knowledge basis on the deep sea marine environment and on the risks and potential impacts of deep sea mining operations”.
However, the assertion that “developing effective environmental standards as binding elements in future permitting processes”, processes that are “able to demonstrate the environment is not seriously harmed”, is not likely to prevent ‘potentially devastating impacts’. Rather it is more likely to leave a lot of room for allowing extensive damage to the marine environment, including loss of biodiversity, species extinctions and degradation of ecosystem services including climate change mitigation, depending on how “seriously harmed” is defined. The debate at the ISA to date on the question of how to define serious harm has not been encouraging.
The communiqué also fails to address the need to reform the ISA, including its voting and decision-making structure and bylaws that would allow as few as 16 members of the Legal and Technical Commission of the ISA and a handful of countries on the Council of the ISA to guarantee that a country or company gets a license to mine, once regulations are adopted by the ISA, even if the majority of the member countries of the ISA are opposed. The negotiations at the ISA to develop mining regulations are focused primarily on mining polymetallic nodules in the deep abyssal plains of the eastern Pacific Ocean.
Each license would involve strip mining approximately 10,000 square kilometers of biologically diverse deep-sea ecosystems over the course of a 30-year mining license and release sediment plumes that could impact marine life over another 10,000 – 30,000 square kilometers of the seabed beyond the mining sites.
Scientists have estimated that in the areas impacted by mining nodules and nodule dependent fauna may take millions of years to recover, and even the partial recovery of the the animals living in the sediment may take hundreds to thousands of years.
It is encouraging to see, in paragraph 4 of the Communique, that the G7 ministers “express our deep concern regarding the triple global crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution…driven largely by human activity and by unsustainable patterns of consumption and production” and that they “commit to immediate, short- and medium-term action in this critical decade, leveraging the synergies between climate and biodiversity action, the clean energy transition and environmental protection, which should inform long-term transformative change”.
In this regard, it is important to point out that deep-sea mining is not needed to transition to renewable energy economies (e.g. as per reports from the UK House of Commons; High Level Panel for a sustainable ocean economy; University of Technology Sydney); that it will exacerbate the biodiversity crisis (Van Dover et al, 2017; Niner et al, 2018); and that rather than promoting a transition to more circular economies and better use of the resources we as society already have, it would perpetuate unsustainable patterns of consumption and production.
If the G7 countries are serious about preventing “devastating impacts [of deep-sea mining] on marine ecosystems and the functioning of the ocean as a climate regulator” of which they are fully aware, they should state outright that no mining of polymetallic nodules in the eastern Pacific should be permitted.
Nor should deep-sea mining be permitted elsewhere by the ISA until far more knowledge is obtained on the deep sea, its unique ecosystems, its role in regulating the climate and acting as a carbon sink, and the risks and potential impacts of deep-sea mining operations.
There is nothing sustainable about deep-sea mining – it is the antithesis of sustainable development as defined by the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals, in particular SDG 14, Target 2.
Matthew Gianni is the the DSCC’s Co-Founder and serves as Political and Policy Advisor for the Coalition.
ISA member states sped up negotiations on the rules to regulate the deep-sea mining industry and met in Kingston, Jamaica, in March 2022. ISA is headquartered in Jamaica’s capital city.
In a release sent to the Jamaica Observer on April 20, Greenpeace said that allegations of lack of independence and transparency between the ISA and the mining industry reinforce the need for a moratorium on deep-sea mining.
An article which appeared in the LA Times today has raised serious concerns about the conduct, integrity and effectiveness of the International Seabed Authority (ISA), the intergovernmental body charged by the UN with safeguarding the deep ocean.
NGOs applaud Spain and call on the government to go further by pushing for a global moratorium on deep-sea mining at the forthcoming sessions of the International Seabed Authority and the UN Biodiversity Convention conference, scheduled to take place later this year.
Global pressure for a moratorium or ban on the nascent industry continues to build as this week at the Our Ocean conference in Palau, the Pacific Parliamentarians Alliance on Deep Sea Mining (PPADSM) launched, and Hawaiian actor Jason Momoa called for a ban on deep-sea mining during a Greenpeace event. Tuvalu’s Foreign Affairs Minister also announced that the country has withdrawn its sponsorship of the company Tuvalu Circular Metals for a deep-sea mining exploration contract.
Observers at the recent meetings of the International Seabed Authority reported that while many states seemed eager to push ahead with developing deep-sea mining regulations and opening up the seabed to a destructive new industry, there was also a growing chorus of concerns.
From mid-March to April 1, observers assembled in Kingston, Jamaica to express their concerns about the possibility and potential ill-effects of deep-seabed mining. The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition were among the groups calling the looming industry “the most recklessly destructive thing we could do to our planet.”