Deep-sea mining negotiations begin in Jamaica – 22/3/22

Date: 22 March 2022

Yesterday, the International Seabed Authority (ISA) opened their 27th Council meeting to rush the development and adoption of regulations that could see the deep seabed opened up to destructive commercial strip-mining as soon as July 2023.

The meeting will run from March 21st to April 1st, the DSCC will be participating throughout to remind delegates not to rush to mine the deep, reiterating our urgent call for a moratorium- an official and global pause.

Opening statements

The meeting started with opening statements from member states and observers including the DSCC. The UK began with a disappointing statement committing to progressing the work on exploitation regulations and accompanying standards or guidelines.

States and observers were united in condemning the war in Ukraine as part of their opening statements, leading Russia to move from asserting that the meeting should stay apolitical, to justifying the war. This resulted in delegates staging a walkout from the meeting.

Once the meeting resumed, a notable intervention came from Germany, reminding the Council that the concept of the common heritage of humankind “obliges us to protect, respect and fulfill the interests of all human beings as well as the future generations.” They also warned that any future commercial exploitation of resources in the area should not cause harmful effects on the marine environment and, importantly, that the current state of knowledge surrounding the environmental impacts of nodule mining is insufficient to proceed to exploitation. 

The UK commented that they shared the concerns made earlier by representatives of Germany, on the scarcity of scientific data stating “We believe that the precautionary principle would say that we need to address those gaps in our times before proceeding with the exploitation phase”. It is worrying that the UK assumes that there will be an exploitation phase, before we have even built on the scientific knowledge they are calling for.

Spain highlighted the importance of engaging in consultations with coastal communities that may be affected as part of environmental monitoring and management plans.

Costa Rica also insisted on the need for “environmental safeguards to fully respect article 145 to ensure true protection of marine environment” supporting Germany’s intervention. 

The DSCC intervened to say that the Law of the Sea Convention requires effective protection of the marine environment and currently that cannot be achieved, which is why we strongly advocate a moratorium on deep-sea mining, and that scientific knowledge is not sufficient to develop regulations which will effectively protect the marine environment.

Who stands to benefit?

The second half of the day focused on the financial terms of a contract were deep-sea mining to go ahead.

The African group highlighted that it wasn’t possible to talk about the rates without the figures, likening the process to signing a cheque first and then talking about the amount in the cheque after.  Costa Rica also flagged concern,  highlighting that the financial models proposed focused on landing on a percentage for contractors.

The DSCC intervened, reinforcing Costa Rica’s concerns around environmental impacts and that if mining were to go ahead, the payment mechanisms could not be finalized until it has been demonstrated that deep-sea mining would not result in irreversible damage to biodiversity and ecosystem functioning.

The second half of the day focused on the financial terms of a contract, were deep-sea mining to go ahead. The entire conversation assumed that deep-sea mining would go ahead, and discussions appeared to be driven by extractive and profit-driven models that are not, and can never be, sustainable.

Costa Rica expressed concern over the fact that environmental impacts are not at all accounted for in the financial models proposed. They added that if mining were to go ahead, the payment mechanisms must not be finalized until it has been demonstrated that deep-sea mining would not result in damage to biodiversity and ecosystem functioning.

The DSCC intervened to say that the financial studies undertaken for the ISA have made no attempt to value ecosystem services or natural capital. We consider that no significant damage to deep-sea ecosystems and ecosystem services should be allowed to take place, no matter the level of profit that would be generated from yet another unsustainable extractive industry. 

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