Speaking at the July 2016 annual meeting of the International Seabed Authority (ISA) in Kingston, Jamaica, the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC) called on State parties to open closed doors and bring transparency to the heart of its work. The ISA this year will debate changes to the structure of the organization as it grapples with the development of exploitation regulations in light of increasing interest in commercial mining of the deep ocean.
The DSCC argued that the Authority’s environmental performance and decision-making must be open to wider scrutiny and that the capacity of the ISA to assess and understand the potential environmental impacts of deep-sea mining must be enhanced.
This issue is central to the a long-overdue two-year review being conducted by the ISA to assess how the institution needs to change its structure and working methods to meet the challenges ahead. Preliminary recommendations of a report on the performance of the ISA will be debated this week with formal decisions on structural change scheduled for 2017.
Duncan Currie, Legal Advisor of the DSCC, said: “The ISA needs to adapt and change substantially if it is to meet the challenges ahead. The environmental impacts of deep-sea mining may be felt for centuries, or even millennia. We cannot allow regulation to happen in the dark, behind closed doors. We need to put the long term interest of the environment and future generations ahead of short term commercial interest in mining. The deep ocean is increasingly recognized as having a value that goes far beyond the economic, including its biodiversity and its role in mitigating clirenmate change”.
A new report published during the meeting (11/7/2016) has called into question the perceived need for deep-sea mining to fulfill the mineral demands of renewable energy. The analysis, led by Dr Sven Teske, Research Principal Engineer, Institute for Sustainable Futures (ISF) at the University of Sydney (UTS), found that a 100% transition towards renewable energy by 2050 can take place without having to source metals from the deep sea for renewable technology*.
Policy Advisor to the DSCC, Matthew Gianni said: ““The deep sea is one of the largest reservoirs of biodiversity on the planet. We are arguably the first generation to recognize that humankind is capable of impacting our environment on a planetary scale – look at climate change. The decisions taken by the ISA over the next few years may well represent our generation’s collective choices regarding the fate of deep-sea species and ecosystems for centuries or millennia to come.”
Gianni continued, “The Institute for Sustainable Studies report is a timely and important contribution to the debate over deep-sea mining as it puts to rest the notion that the world needs the mineral resources found in the deep sea to be able to transition to a renewables economy. Hopefully we can now have a more informed, reasonable debate here at the ISA and elsewhere, over whether and under what conditions this industry should be permitted to develop.”
The number of private companies, state agencies and/or research institutes (so-called “contractors”) that have signed contracts with the ISA to explore the deep ocean for minerals such as manganese, copper, cobalt zinc, gold and silver will reach 27 by the end of this year – over three times the number of contractors in 2010. The permits issued by the ISA thus far cover over 1 million square kilometres of seabed.”
*The report ‘Renewable Energy and Deep- Sea Mining” published on 11 July 2016 at the ISA meeting in Kingston Jamaica was authored by Sven Teske, Nick Florin, Elsa Dominish and Damien Giurco of the Institute For Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology in Sydney.
“A transition towards a 100% renewable energy supply – often referred as the “energy revolution” – can take place without deep-sea mining. Even with the projected very high demand growth rates under the most ambitious energy scenarios, the projected increase in cumulative demand – all within the range of known terrestrial resources – does not require deep-sea mining activity”.
A predicted significant increase in mine production rates of neodymium and dysprosium, as well as the high cumulative demand for lithium and silver, could place pressure on supply chains and current reserves, and therefore these metals require special attention. Increasing recycling and continued research and development into alternative technologies that reduce, or completely eliminate, the use of these critical metals are vitally important complementary strategies.
The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC) focuses on two overarching goals: to substantially reduce the greatest threats to life in the deep seas; and to safeguard the long-term health, integrity, and resilience of deep-sea ecosystems.
Copies of the presentations made by Duncan Currie, Matthew Gianni, Dr. Teske and Simon Walmsley of WWF at a ’side-event’ organized be the DSCC at the ISA meeting this year can be found on the DSCC website at www.savethehighseas.org
A DSCC report analyzing a decade’s worth of actions taken by countries to protect deep sea ecosystems will be launched during the International Marine Conservation Congress (30 July- 3 August 2016 – St John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador (Canada) and at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York at a meeting on 1-2 August to review the implementation of a set of landmark resolutions adopted by the UNGA calling for action by States to prevent damage to deep-sea ecosystems from destructive fishing practices.