What would be at stake if risky deep-sea mining were to go ahead? 25/3/22

Date: 25 March 2022

Day five saw continued discussion at the International Seabed Authority (ISA) on proposed deep-sea mining regulations, focusing on the environmental impacts of the damaging industry. If the proposed Mining Code were to be adopted, commercial strip-mining in the deep sea could begin as soon as 2023. 

The morning’s discussions focused on the proposal for an environmental compensation fund (ECF). The DSCC raised significant concerns that liability and responsibility issues have not been discussed at the ISA. The proposed fund would be supposed to come into play if deep-sea mining were to go ahead and contractors did not have sufficient funds to compensate for damages incurred. The DSCC highlighted in today’s talks that it is highly likely that contractors would not have sufficient funds to cover such costs- and could, in essence, walk away from their responsibilities. This is made worse by the fact that the Council isn’t discussing ‘effective control’ – how (or if) the sponsoring State controls the contractor, in reality. The DSCC has been raising these issues with the ISA for years.

Also on the proposed environmental compensation fund, the DSCC pointed out that with the proposed funding arrangement, money would not be in the fund for years; We also observed that the ISA Technical Study 27 on the liability fund proposed that “personal injury and economic loss be excluded to ensure the sustainability of the ECF.”  This would mean that the fund would exclude losses to industries such as fishing, because otherwise there would be so many calls on the fund it would exhaust it! This exclusion clearly highlights the ISA’s own lack of confidence in deep-sea mining and the risks it would pose if it were to go ahead providing little comfort to the fishing industry or countries reliant on fishing for their livelihoods and food security. Scientists continue to warn us of the impacts deep-sea mining would pose to fisheries if it were to go ahead.

Another concern raised during the day’s discussion was the focus on restoration and rehabilitation. Science has shown us that remediation and restoration are not feasible in the context of deep-sea ecosystems and that damage caused to the marine environment would be irreversible. Numerous states highlighted that the environmental impacts of deep-sea mining would extend far beyond the area of the site directly mined, which would itself be the size of New York state if all 17 license areas in the Clarion Clipperton Zone for polymetallic manganese nodules were mined. 

Discussion then turned to the smothering and crushing of animals and other species, reminding us of the realities of the destructive nascent industry and the brutal and irreversible impacts it would pose to life in the deep if it were to go ahead. 

The DSCC highlighted that the following were missing from the proposed regulations:

  • A lack of free prior and informed consent;
  • Marine mammal and fish surveys;
  • Biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction environmental impact assessment provisions;
  • A ‘no-action’ alternative (meaning no mining);
  • Long term monitoring of sites that would be strip mined if deep- sea mining went ahead.

Negotiations on environmental impact assessments served only to highlight the glaring gaps in the regulations. Both the DSCC and Deep Ocean Stewardship Initiative (DOSI) stated that carbon burial and sequestration were missing from the  EIS as were the impacts of climate change in the deep and ocean acidification.

The glaring omissions of such key factors demonstrate that the ISA is lacking in independent scientific advice, and not fit to make evidence-based decisions about the largest and most damaging extractive industry the world would ever see if permitted to go ahead.

Notable interventions

  • DOSI reiterated that there is no evidence indicating that deep-sea restoration can be carried out.
  • The USA stated that they would like to see an option for a mining contract not to go ahead.
  • Costa Rica stated that an environmental compensation fund should be established before any mining were to take place.
  • The Special Representative of the Enterprise noted that it was requested to seek an advisory opinion to fill whatever liability gaps exist in the convention but this request has never been fulfilled.
  • FSM stressed that efforts to prevent, limit and mitigate should be supported by best environmental practices and techniques and the best available science, including indigenous and traditional knowledge.
  • Chile stated that if a contractor cannot cover all costs, their plan of work should not be approved.
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