Deep-sea mining negotiations close as global concern surrounding the industry reaches all time high

Date: 5 August 2022

Media Release – For Immediate Release

Negotiations to open the ocean to the largest mining operation in human history come to a close as resistance from country delegations, scientists and NGOs escalates. The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition have been present throughout negotiations and call for ISA member States to urgently turn words into action and call on the Authority for a stop to the destructive industry before it starts.

Over the past three weeks negotiations have taken place in a hotel in Kingston, Jamaica to agree a Mining Code which if adopted, would see the Earth’s largest remaining wilderness area opened to large-scale commercial deep-sea mining as soon as next July. Observers including NGOs and scientists have been relegated to a windowless basement room for the duration of the meetings.

The International Seabed Authority (ISA) continued to push ahead with developing regulations for the nascent industry. At the same time, an increasing number of countries emphasised the obligation of the ISA under international law to ensure the effective protection of the international seabed (which accounts for around 50 per cent of the total area of the world’s ocean) from the harmful effects of deep-sea mining activities.

As country delegations took the floor, it became quickly apparent that the tide has begun to turn on the controversial industry in the face of growing awareness of the irreversible and large-scale damage deep-sea mining would have for people and planet, if authorised to go ahead. Numerous countries including Costa Rica, Chile, Spain, Ecuador and Micronesia called for the ISA to hit the brakes on deep-sea mining, highlighting concerns that the world is not in a position to move forward with the emerging industry in the absence of the necessary independent scientific information.

Micronesia also raised the prospect of a moratorium on deep-sea mining for the first time during negotiations, stating that they had joined the Alliance of Countries Calling for a Deep-Sea Mining Moratorium launched by Palau at the UN Ocean Conference. Delegations including New Zealand, Brazil, Singapore and Italy also stated that environmental protection must be guaranteed before deep-sea mining could move forward and numerous States and observers clearly indicated that many of the issues under negotiation at the ISA are far from being resolved. Indeed, Tonga, a sponsoring state of would-be miners, Tonga Offshore Mining Limited owned by The Metals Company, commented that they were concerned by the apparent lack of progress to develop regulations.

Credit: NOAA

Australia, the UK and Nauru, the latter two countries also sponsoring states, reiterated their call to progressing regulations and France stated their determination to adopt “a legal framework with rigorous environmental protections to ensure that harm to ecosystems in the marine environment is minimised.” Conversely, during the UN Oceans Conference at the end of June, President Emmanuel Macron called for a legal framework to stop mining on the high seas.

The clock is ticking on deep-sea mining, due to the triggering of an obscure legal provision known as the 2 year rule by Nauru on behalf of the mining company it sponsors, NORI, also owned by The Metals Company. However, calls grew from observers and numerous States that this timeline may not necessarily lead to mining. Costa Rica consistently highlighted that the rule was triggered during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and Chile called for a full discussion on whether the 2-year timeline was indeed meaningful. The debate however was postponed by the President of the ISA Assembly, squeezing it under what was essentially ‘AOB’. 

Concerns mounted throughout the meetings that the ISA is not transparent, fit for purpose, nor acting on behalf of humankind. Tight restrictions on access were imposed on scientists, NGOs, country delegations and media by the ISA secretariat and some journalists were denied access entirely. On the first day of the meeting, the Secretariat turned off the live web stream, cutting off access to the negotiations to stakeholders including state delegations, many observers and media alike that were unable to attend the meeting. The move prompted significant backlash and eventually led to the live broadcast being switched back on. The Authority’s Secretary General, Michael Lodge also faced demands from Chile for United Nations level independent financial audits and complaints from Costa Rica of failing to show necessary impartiality.  

During the ISA’s Assembly crucial debate on the 2 year rule,  NGOs and scientists were cut off after 3 minutes, with no prior warning. Far from having time limitations, the meeting finished a day and a half early.

“Rather than acting on behalf of all of humankind, the ISA continues to demonstrate a deep-rooted industry driven agenda. Silencing voices that question the path to extraction, including NGOs and scientists, during negotiations illustrates the Authority’s clear and inherent conflict of interest.”

Emma Wilson, representing OceanCare throughout negotiations

In recent months, deep-sea mining has become a flagship issue for ocean health with  governments, Parliamentarians, scientists, civil society, companies, fisheries associations and huge swathes of the public all calling for an urgent stop to the destructive industry. The DSCC continues to urge ISA member States to call on the Authority for a stop to the destructive industry and to prioritise planetary health for present and future generations. 

“A growing number of countries are beginning to challenge the arcane rules under which the ISA operates, and reject assertions that the world needs to mine the deep-sea to build batteries for electric vehicles. What is needed is more responsible land-based mining practices, investment in circular economy initiatives, and to make much better use of the metals and materials we already have in circulation rather than opening a whole new frontier of the planet to destructive industrial resource extraction”.   

Matthew Gianni, representing Earthworks at negotiations

“ISA member States are waking up to the critical need to defend the deep in the face of what would be an environmental catastrophe, the likes of which we have never seen. It’s time for States to go further and join the alliance of countries calling for a moratorium on deep-sea mining, launched by Palau.” 

Duncan Currie, Deep Sea Conservation Coalition 
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