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From 18-29 March, States gathered at the International Seabed Authority (ISA) in Kingston, Jamaica for discussions on the future of deep-sea mining amidst growing resistance and rising divergence between States. The stage is now set for the upcoming Council and Assembly meetings in July 2024. As the meeting draws to a close, the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC) has been present throughout the meeting, urging precaution and advocating for a moratorium on deep-sea mining. 

In an attempt to expedite negotiations, the ISA Council opened with a controversial new draft “consolidated text” and the threat of a new procedure for negotiating the mining regulations that would limit the participation of NGOs and other stakeholders. Throughout the discussions, multiple concerns were raised by States on the new text, including calling for reinstating State proposals that were dropped, criticizing that in at least one case mining companies’ proposals replaced those of States, and citing confusion and a lack of clarity. Efforts by the outgoing Council President to accelerate discussions received pushback from a number of States. 

The DSCC’s Global Deep-Sea Mining Campaign Lead, Sofia Tsenikli, remarked: “The recent Council meeting clearly shows that there remains a vast divide among States regarding the development of a Mining Code in the absence of robust science. With the crises facing our ocean growing daily, the deep sea, as the common heritage of humankind, should serve as a unifying force, not one of contention. To safeguard our collective heritage, we must unite behind a global moratorium.”

Indigenous and Pacific representatives attending the ISA reiterated their steadfast opposition to deep-sea mining in the Pacific, echoing widespread apprehension towards the extractive industry. This follows a threat by The Metals Company (TMC) to use an obscure legal loophole to apply to begin commercial mining operations later this year in the Pacific, attempting to force the world to accept a choice between a faulty mining code or unregulated mining. 

The DSCC’s Policy Officer, Emma Wilson, emphasized: “TMC’s coercive tactics highlight the urgency of the situation and the imperative of implementing a moratorium. It is unacceptable for a single company to jeopardize the integrity of an international organization for the sake of short-term profits while risking irreversible and permanent harm. A moratorium would alleviate the pressure on negotiators and ensure that decisions are taken in a calm, informed, and responsible manner.” 

During the meeting, a notable segment was dedicated to addressing the recent Greenpeace protest actions within the NORI-D area and the fundamental right to peaceful protest at sea. Nauru, as the sponsoring State for the contract area, advocated for the revocation of Greenpeace’s observer status and called for the ISA to establish safety zones around mining vessels, the legality of which was debated by States. However, the session culminated with Nauru’s proposals being brushed aside for the time being, with multiple States reaffirming the right to peaceful protest at sea, following the 30 November 2023 Dutch court ruling. 

On the margins of the Council meeting, an event organized by the Blue Climate Initiative, brought leading experts to Kingston to discuss with delegates how the next generation of electric vehicle batteries and the dubious economics of deep-sea mining are reshaping the debate over the industry. 

The DSCC’s co-founder, Matthew Gianni stated: “Claims advocating that deep-sea metals are required to achieve a green transition have been consistently debunked, for example by the European Academies Science Advisory Council. TMC’s recent pivot towards using geopolitical competition for access to ‘critical raw materials’ and military use as justifications for the industry, is a disturbing rationale to promote their profit-driven agenda. How could anyone buy the argument that a superpower race to open up the deep ocean, our global ocean commons, to large-scale mining to fuel weapons production would somehow be for the benefit of humankind as a whole?”

At present, twenty-five nations are supporting a precautionary pause or moratorium on deep-sea mining, with the Kingdom of Denmark emerging as the latest champion for a pause, citing a lack of sufficient scientific understanding of the negative impacts and effects of deep-sea mining on the marine environment. 

Duncan Currie, the DSCC’s legal advisor concluded: “The focus now turns to the ISA’s annual Assembly meeting in July where we hope States will finally have the opportunity to formally discuss a general policy to protect the marine environment. Deep-sea mining poses an existential threat to our ocean and planet unless decisive action is taken now. We urge more countries to be on the right side of history and stop a highly destructive activity before it begins.” 

END

About the DSCC

The DSCC is made up of over 100 non-government organizations, fishers organizations and law and policy institutes working together to protect vulnerable deep-sea ecosystems. We aim to substantially reduce the greatest threats to life in the deep sea and to safeguard the long-term health, integrity and resilience of deep-sea ecosystems.

Contact

For media inquiries, please contact patricia@communicationsinc.co.uk 

Notes to editors

  • Under the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea the deep seabed is to be used for peaceful purposes and the collective benefit of humankind. 
  • The International Seabed Authority (ISA) is the UN-affiliated intergovernmental body charged both with regulating any deep-sea mining in areas beyond national jurisdiction and with ensuring the effective protection of the marine environment. 
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