Weeks of meetings and negotiations by the 168-member International Seabed Authority (ISA) in Jamaica regarding the deep-sea mining of minerals has ended without approval of or regulations for the controversial practice.
ISA member countries Palau, Vanuatu, France, Costa Rica and Chile proposed that the next meeting of the Assembly in mid-2024 discuss the protection of the marine environment, a press release from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said.
“Over the last three weeks across the world, what’s become clearer every day is that more governments, businesses, financial institutions, scientists, civil society, Indigenous Peoples, faith groups and communities are taking a stand against deep seabed mining – as they recognize the injustice and destruction it will bring,” said Jessica Battle, lead for WWF’s No Deep Seabed Mining Initiative, in the press release.
WWF has said that the only option until the science behind deep-sea mining is understood and protections for the ocean are established is a moratorium on the practice.
Thus far, 21 countries have expressed their support of a ban, moratorium or precautionary pause on deep-sea mining, including new supporters Finland, Brazil, Portugal and Canada. The United Nations Commissioner on Human Rights has cautioned governments against the destructive practice, 37 financial institutions that manage more than 3.3 trillion euros worth of assets said possible risks need to be evaluated and 32 percent of the worldwide tuna industry have expressed their concerns.
“We’ve seen intense debate at the ISA between those who want to progress deep seabed mining, and those who are wisely choosing a more precautionary stewardship to preserve the common good of humankind,” Battle said in the press release. “The compromise decision reached here today opens the door to have a proper discussion involving all member states of the ISA on protecting the marine environment and whether deep seabed mining can go ahead at all. This is an important step forward.”
Companies want to be able to mine the deep seabed for metals like cobalt, copper, manganese and nickel — minerals used to make electric vehicles and smartphones. But the process of extracting the deposits from nodules in the ocean floor destroys the habitats of marine animals — many of them new to science — in parts of the deep that are mostly unexplored.
“The ocean is already under severe stress from multiple pressures including overfishing, pollution and climate change,” Battle added. “Deep seabed mining would just add another pressure at a time when we should be restoring the ocean, so it can fulfill its potential as our main ally against the climate crisis. A functioning ocean ecosystem is the best buffer, best mitigation and best adaptation tool we have for addressing the impacts of climate change. A moratorium on deep seabed mining is the only choice until the science is in place and the effective protection of the marine environment can be guaranteed.”
A loophole called the “two-year rule” means the 36-member ISA Council has to “consider and provisionally approve” deep-sea mining applications two years after submission, no matter if regulations have been finalized, reported Reuters.
If a “plan of work” is submitted and received before deep-sea mining regulations have been put in place, the ISA Council said a decision as to how the rule should be applied would be made at its next meeting.
“The ocean is the foundation for all life on this planet,” said Kaja Lønne Fjærtoft, policy lead for WWF’s No Deep Seabed Mining Initiative, in the press release. “We need to focus our efforts toward a circular economy – addressing both the dual biodiversity and climate crises together, or we risk solving neither.”
Mining ocean beds for minerals isn’t necessary for the transition to renewables, WWF said. A report commissioned by WWF showed the demand for the minerals can be eased by 58 percent through recycling and other circular economy practices, like materials recovery, product-life extension and other technological choices.
The argument that the green transition needs deep-sea mining is misleading, concluded the European Academies Science Advisory Council, according to the press release.
“We cannot and must not embark on a new industrial activity when we are not able to fully measure its consequences and therefore risk irreversible damage to our marine ecosystems,” Hervé Berville, French State Secretary for the Sea, said in a speech last Wednesday, as The Guardian reported.