The International Seabed Authority (ISA) Council meeting concluded on November 8 in Kingston, Jamaica. States continued to negotiate a mining code that, if it is adopted, would open the fragile deep sea to deep-sea mining, raising the need for a moratorium on this destructive industry now. The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC), representing over 100 non-governmental organizations around the world, has been present in Kingston during the negotiations from October 30 – November 8.
Since the beginning of the 28th Session of the ISA in March 2023, momentum for a moratorium or precautionary pause has continued to grow, with 11 new states calling to halt the industry. The United Kingdom was the latest to announce its support for a moratorium on the opening day of the Council meeting (30 October), bringing the total number of countries to 23 calling for a moratorium, precautionary pause, or ban on the industry.
The DSCC’s Global Deep-Sea Mining Campaign Lead, Sofia Tsenikli, stated: “Humanity is at a crossroads. Deep-sea mining is a once-in-a-generation decision to either destroy or protect the deep sea – one of the last remaining pristine areas on our planet. The growing consensus is that deep-sea mining should not go ahead; it is not needed, not wanted, and not worth the risk. We look forward to welcoming more countries into this wide-ranging coalition of States, scientists, businesses, Indigenous leaders, youth, and other stakeholders to safeguard our ocean for future generations.”
Despite efforts by some countries at the ISA to fast-track the adoption of mining regulations by 2025, huge inconsistencies, gaps, and differences amongst negotiators were evident in the draft regulations throughout the 8-day Council meeting, many of which appear insurmountable.
Civil society continued to be a strong voice within the negotiations, giving powerful interventions regarding the lack of science and understanding of the deep sea, the need for greater transparency and independence from mining companies and contractors, the need for free, prior, and informed consent by Indigenous Peoples and protection of cultural values, why deep-sea minerals are not needed to fuel the green transition, and how the current draft regulations would not prevent the irreversible harm and destruction of the marine environment.
The DSCC’s Policy Officer, Emma Wilson, commented: “States understand that deep-sea mining would cause irreversible harm and destruction to the marine environment. Due to the ISA’s pro-mining structure, we know that adopting a mining code would simply pave the way for this damaging extractive activity to begin in the context of sparse scientific understanding and harmful operational practices. The only truly precautionary approach to deep-sea mining is a moratorium.”
As the ISA now begins preparations for its 29th session in 2024, key issues beyond the mining code still remain unsolved, including the arcane 2-year legal loophole that could allow for a mining application to be received and approved without mining regulations in place.
Duncan Currie, the DSCC’s legal advisor, added: Would-be deep-sea miners, The Metals Company, have indicated their clear intention to submit an application to mine in August 2024, or soon after that, regardless of whether rules and regulations are in place, defying States that have directly called for no mining until regulations are agreed. If States do not take the necessary steps to safeguard the ocean now, there is a very real risk that the world will sleepwalk into deep-sea mining beginning due to the actions of one company bent on making a quick profit from the destruction of the deep sea.”
A paper published in Nature on November 8 concludes that while deep-sea mining may generate short-term profits for mining companies, long-term benefits would likely be minimal because of business model and litigation risks, public opposition, and competition from land-based mining. The paper also stated that deep-sea mining licensed by the ISA “may marginally benefit low-income countries under ISA, if at all, and countries sponsoring deep seabed mining in the Area. However, this would come with dire, irreparable loss to humanity and nature, making it difficult to justify.”
Furthermore, during the ISA Council meeting, a new report was released refuting the common misconception, promoted by mining interests, that it’s necessary to mine the ocean for metals for the electric vehicle battery market.
The DSCC’s co-founder, Matthew Gianni, added: Reports continue to show that deep-sea mining is a false solution to the climate crisis, would come at a high environmental cost, and is not needed to fuel a green energy transition. Alternatives to mining metals in the deep sea are a reality, with next-generation batteries and technologies either reusing metals in circulation or not requiring metals found in the deep ocean. As we combat the climate crisis, we must move away from ‘business as usual’ extractive economies and single-use metals and other materials, and focus on building more sustainable and circular approaches, making better use of what we already have.”
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.
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Notes to editors
- In preparation for Climate COP28 and the upcoming #DeepDay, the DSCC will be hosting a webinar on November 16 entitled ‘Beneath the Waves: The Deep Sea, Climate Change and COP28’. The webinar will focus on the intricate connections between the deep sea and global climate, the threats to the critical services the deep sea provides, and discuss whether the deep sea is on the agenda at COP28. Register for the webinar here.
- The International Seabed Authority (ISA) is the UN 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.
DSCC MEMBER QUOTES:
François Chartier, head of the Greenpeace International delegation attending the negotiations: “We urge states to move away from negotiating a mining code that would pave the way for the start of another extractive industry and focus instead on putting in place a moratorium on deep-sea mining. A moratorium is the only responsible way for states to fulfill their obligations under the Law of the Sea Convention to protect the marine environment.”
Jessica Battle, Global Lead for WWF’s No Deep Seabed Mining Initiative: “We rather need to invest in the right technologies and reshape our societies to reduce our energy and mineral demands. There are other sustainable alternatives available that do not require minerals from the deep sea as we transition to a fossil free economy.”
Julian Jackson, Senior Manager, Ocean Governance, The Pew Charitable Trusts: “We should not mistake process for progress. There are still significant scientific uncertainties related to the deep-sea ecosystem and potential harmful impacts of mining on this fragile and unique environment that are leading more countries to pause and call for a moratorium on these activities.”
Madeline Warner, Program Manager, The Ocean Foundation: “We are concerned about the lack of equity in the process of the ISA negotiations. Many countries and stakeholders have not been able to participate – in part because of the grueling and intense meeting schedule – but their voices are important to the conversation. Meetings about the shared fate of our global ocean, and whether to allow an industry that would negatively impact the common heritage of humanity, should not be progressing so quickly.”
Nicole Zanesco, International Policy Advisor, Oceans North: “The United Nations General Assembly acknowledges our collective right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment—a right that extends to both present and future generations. However, deep-sea mining will impact ecosystems in such a way that they are unlikely to ever recover. As states at the International Seabed Authority negotiate how and whether this industry should go ahead, we ask them to consider not merely the legal questions, but the human ones: how can we govern the international ocean in a way that provides our descendants with a secure and healthy future? A moratorium on deep sea mining is the only way to be responsible stewards of these ecosystems.”
Stan Rowland, CEO of the Blue Climate Initiative: “We often hear from those who are now getting wealthy promoting deep sea mining that we must mine the ocean to get more nickel and other deep sea metals for EV batteries. But the rapid adoption of next-generation batteries that don’t use these metals demonstrate that deep sea mining is nothing more than an irresponsible and reckless choice. It’s unfortunate that mining company executives don’t embrace the new technology and the promise it provides for a healthier ocean and a cleaner world. Let’s hope that the International Seabed Authority does.”