Allowing The Fox to Monitor the Chickens – 24/3/22

Date: 24 March 2022

Today at the International Seabed Authority’s (ISA) 27th meeting to develop regulations for the emerging deep-sea mining industry, negotiations continued on the proposed environmental regulations.

A key issue emerging from today’s negotiations was around industry self-regulation. The ISA’s proposed regulations would essentially allow contractors to set their own rules that would leave the ocean open to irreversible environmental damage on multigenerational timescales. The DSCC’s Duncan Currie warned that “relying on the contractor to monitor themselves is akin to allowing the fox to monitor the chicken pen.”

As things stand in the draft proposed regulations, there is currently no option to prevent a contractor going ahead with mining, even if their environmental assessment is found to be unsatisfactory. The DSCC pointed out the absence of a ‘no-action’ option (which would mean no mining). The USA supported our suggestion, calling for this no-action alternative to be included. 

The fact that this option is not included in draft regulations clearly underlines the ISA’s rush to mine the deep. There is a clear industry driven agenda embedded within the regulations proposed by the ISA. Independent scientific assessment is also entirely missing. 

The proposed regulations would also allow deep-sea miners to effectively set their own rules by:

  • Writing and reviewing their own environmental and safety management systems;
  • Preparing their own emergency response and contingency plans;
  • Establishing their own monitoring activities and evaluating the results themselves.

The DSCC also called for the need for independent reviews, real time monitoring and reports being made public. Stating the obvious (you’d think), Duncan said that if harm to the marine environment has occurred, don’t just monitor and mitigate its impacts: stop the activity. 

On the issue of test mining (testing whole mining systems), the DSCC said that: “if an EIA carried out for test mining indicates any harm to biodiversity or ecosystem function would occur, then it must not be allowed.” We also called for full public participation. We not only supported the inclusion of traditional knowledge, which others did, but called for the implementation of free prior informed consent – following the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as well as the Convention on Biological Diversity and the International Labour Organization Convention 169.

On adaptive management, we said that it can only be used when it is consistent with the precautionary principle, and as here there is no baseline and there will be significant damage, it has no role. And for environmental impact assessments, we called for full public participation. We were told, for example, by NORI and The Metals Company in the last webinar  that consultation was at an end, after having delivered hundreds of new pages just a few days before the webinar. That is unacceptable. We also called for adequate time for the public to consider documents.

The DSCC will continue to advocate for a healthy ocean throughout negotiations, calling for a halt to the development of regulations that would open the seabed to a new frontier of industrial extraction that we do not need. 

Notable interventions

  • Australia highlighted the need to continuously monitor environmental impacts and ensure contractors respond to impacts, mitigate and remediate environmental damage.
  • Mexico called for consultation with all coastal states impacted by any proposed deep-sea mining operations.
  • Norway stated a preference to avoid too many reporting requirements as part of regulations. 
  • The Holy See called to protect our common home, emphasizing the need to safeguard benefits to humankind as a whole.
  • Costa Rica highlighted the critical role of baseline data in environmental monitoring plans.
  • Brazil reminded delegates to consider the social impacts  of deep-sea mining. 
  • France stated that we all agree that there is not enough scientific knowledge even about this area – commenting that we have more knowledge about the moon than the deep ocean. They also called for clarification on the integration of indegnous and traditional knowledge.
  • FSM clarified the role of traditional and indigenous environmental knowledge in  regulations. They reiterated the need to embed such knowledge within proposed regulations, citing as an example knowledge on culturally significant and highly migratory species (seals, sharks etc) that move between coastal waters and the high seas.
  • The USA commented, building on suggestion by the DSCC, that a no-action alternative be included 
  • The Deep Ocean Stewardship Initiative (DOSI) warned that deep-sea mining impacts would not be apparent on test mining timescales and warned of cumulative impacts and the need to consider climate impacts in the deep.
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