Key countries oppose deep sea mining as regulations advance to open the industry
August 5, 2022
As delegates in Kingston, Jamaica, wrap up three intensive weeks of negotiations at the International Seabed Authority (ISA) for rules that could launch the deep sea mining industry by summer 2023, a growing chorus of countries is calling for caution.
© Marten van Dijl / Greenpeace
Washington, DC (August 5, 2022) As delegates in Kingston, Jamaica, wrap up three intensive weeks of negotiations at the International Seabed Authority (ISA) for rules that could launch the deep sea mining industry by summer 2023, a growing chorus of countries is calling for caution.
The time bomb that would launch the industry was triggered last year when the Pacific country of Nauru, a state sponsor of aspiring deep sea miner The Metals Company, activated an obscure legal provision called the ‘2-year rule’ that would allow the ISA to begin taking applications for commercial deep sea mining projects by July 2023 with whatever rules are in place at that time.
Chile’s effort to launch a substantive debate on the 2-year rule, supported by civil society and a handful of member states such as Costa Rica, was rebuffed by other member states on the procedural pretext that it was proposed too late to be accepted on the agenda. Chile is one of the countries that are leading the call for a moratorium. The Pacific nations of Palau, Fiji, Samoa, and Micronesia, citing concerns about the impact the industry would have on the health of the ocean and the lives and livelihoods of Pacific Peoples, also recently launched an alliance calling for a moratorium on the sector’s development. The call for a moratorium has also gained support from over 200 members of Parliament from 47 different countries.
Greenpeace USA project lead on deep sea mining Arlo Hemphill said: “We are pleased to see that the momentum against this destructive industry is growing as more countries have paused to consider the warnings of the scientific community and frontline communities alike. Considering the risks we face for climate change, biodiversity loss, and economic and social disruption, we should not proceed as though we are lemmings at the edge of a cliff, ready to launch another destructive industry in the already stressed oceans – a cornerstone of life on Earth. Discussions such as those raised by Chile on the 2-year rule are necessary to ensure that we do not rush into another environmental disaster.”
The ISA itself has faced continued criticism that it is not fit for purpose, with allegations of a lack of transparency, accountability, and inclusivity; close relationship with prospective deep sea mining companies; and a myriad of technical problems that plagued the meeting. These left many observers questioning whether the body could effectively regulate the industry that would occur over 200 miles from any shore on the high seas that cover almost half of our planet.
Hemphill continued: “As we have heard repeatedly throughout these negotiations, the ISA’s conduct in managing this important body and organizing the meetings is not an encouraging indicator of their ability to regulate profit-driven corporations conducting mining activities thousands of feet below the ocean surface. Instead of discussing the minutiae of how to divide the profits, we really should dedicate more time to considering whether this industry is even necessary.”
Electric vehicle companies, an important part of the transition to green transportation, could comprise a significant share of the end market for deep-sea mined energy minerals. However, these companies can reduce the need for these minerals by scaling up closed-loop battery recycling and investing in battery efficiency and new chemistries.
Greenpeace’s recently launched Race to the Top web application finds that five of the eight EV manufacturers ranked (Rivian, Renault, BMW Group, Volvo, and Volkswagen) have publicly supported a global moratorium on deep sea mining and publicly committed to not sourcing minerals from the deep seabed. Their stance strongly signals to the mining companies and the ISA that this new industry may not even have a market. Greenpeace USA is calling on US automakers Ford, General Motors, and Tesla to join their European counterparts in making a public commitment supporting a moratorium on deep sea mining and pledging to exclude deep sea minerals from their supply chains.
Joey Tau, Deputy Coordinator of the Pacific Network on Globalization (PANG), who attended the July ISA meeting as part of the Greenpeace International delegation, said: “As the ISA continues to push through negotiations towards the unrealistic time limits of June 2023, Pacific groups remain concerned as negotiations limit the engagement of global communities, especially Indigenous groups. These talks need the free, prior, informed consent of all as the ocean is the common heritage of all humankind.”
Tau continued: “We stand at a precipitous moment in history, which demands great political leadership beyond the sovereign right of individual nation states to collectively govern our oceans. It is our hope that the global community will share in our vision of common stewardship and responsibilities for our oceans and support the growing call for a halt, a pause, and even for an outright ban on deep sea mining from citizens, faith-based leaders, civil society members, scientists and a growing number of political leaders including from our very own blue continent.”
The ISA’s host country, Jamaica, has come under pressure from local civil society organizations and the opposition spokesperson on Land, Environment, and Climate Change to adopt a moratorium. The Jamaican government has stated that they are not prepared to support deep-seabed mining before an appropriate, robust regulatory framework is put in place.
Theresa Rodriguez-Moodie, Chief Executive Officer Jamaica Environment Trust, said: “We note the recent statement by the Jamaican Government. While this is a good thing if it means not adopting regulations or approving contracts next year, it is important to note that the environmental baseline data is still lacking. There is still so much we do not know about the deep sea, so it would be impossible to effectively measure and monitor if you have no starting point for comparison.”
Rodriguez-Moodie added: “We also strongly believe that as we face the climate crisis, which is already upon us, it is high time we moved away from the destructive approaches of the past. We must concentrate our efforts on developing technology and systems which reduce the use of raw materials and promote closed-loop recycling rather than investing in technologies that could cause irreversible damage to the health of our planet. If we pursue this destructive industry, we risk the vital ecosystem services provided by the ocean for short-term economic gain. The Jamaica Environment Trust calls for a moratorium on deep sea mining until a number of conditions around environmental harm and good governance can be met. We urge the Jamaican Government to join in this call, as a leader in the Caribbean and as a small island developing state already trying to cope with the impacts of the climate crisis.”
Eleanor Terrelonge, President of the Jamaica Climate Change Youth Council, which led a show of solidarity against deep sea mining at the meeting venue, said: “We at the Jamaica Climate Change Youth Council have heard the voice of the people on this issue of deep sea mining. The sheer readiness with which young people came out to support us in demonstration against this new exploitative industry is proof enough of where our people stand. We stand for people over profit and the protection of the environment on which we all rely. We join the voices calling for a moratorium on deep sea mining, as we support evidence-based decisions that require a lot more science and exploration into the vast unknown of the deep sea before exploitation can begin. Our oceans are our last saving grace in the fight against climate change, we cannot afford to lose our largest carbon sink nor all the unique ecosystems that are housed within.”
Contact: Tanya Brooks, Greenpeace USA Senior Communications Specialist, P: 703-342-9226, E: [email protected]