Author: Elizabeth Claire Alberts
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.
Deep-sea mining may start as early as 2023 after Nauru triggered a two-year rule embedded in the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea that could essentially allow its sponsored company to start mining with whatever regulations are currently in place.
Scientists say mining could cause an unprecedented amount of harm not only to the mining sites themselves, but also to a wider area of the ocean. According to a new paper led by Amon, mining 500,000 km2 (193,000 mi2) of the CCZ would actually impact an area three times larger — the combined size of Spain, Portugal, France, Belgium and Germany — with noise and sediment plumes.
Gianni and Amon both noted that states also raised a number of issues around the ISA’s lack of transparency, including how documents were prepared following consultations, and why the ISA withheld crucial pieces of information regarding mining licenses.
While many countries do not appear to support deep-sea mining going ahead in 2023, no country has publicly called for a complete moratorium at the ISA meetings, said Gianni. However, at the IUCN World Congress held in Marseille, France, last year, 88 governments and government agencies, as well as 577 NGOs and civil society organizations, voted to put a stop to deep-sea mining until more information is gathered to understand if it is a responsible decision. This position is also supported by 622 scientists and policy experts.
“Unfortunately, most of the countries are still playing along with the idea that they have to do this, and they’re going to try to adopt these regulations by July 2023,” Gianni said. “And that would be a huge mistake.”
The two-year rule within UNCLOS does not necessarily obligate the ISA to adopt regulations within two years, but it does indicate that the ISA can adopt the regulations at that time — and current negotiations seem to be heading this direction.
Deep-sea mining companies such as TMC claim that deep-sea mining can support the net-zero goal by providing the necessary minerals for renewable energy technologies.
Yet Gianni said he finds it “almost immoral” to forge ahead with deep-sea mining in the midst of the climate crisis rather than look for alternative materials to build renewable energy technologies.
“[It would] create a whole new problem trying to solve another problem,” he said. “It would be irresponsible of the countries of the world to allow this to happen, whether they’re actively deciding or not.”
The next set of ISA meetings scheduled for July 2022 will be critical in determining the direction of deep-sea mining.
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