Skepticism Grows About Deep Sea Mining

Recently, the International Seabed Authority, the intergovernmental body responsible for overseeing deep-sea mining in international waters, concluded its recent series of meetings, which took place from July 4 to August 4, 2022.

The purpose of the meetings was to advance negotiations on mining regulations, with a view to deep sea mining starting in July 2023 after the Pacific island nation of Nauru triggered a rule that could force that.

While many countries appear to support the rapid development of these regulations, a growing number of other countries have expressed concerns about the delay, signaling a possible turn of events.

Start with small fragments of deep water: shark teeth or shell shards. Then, in a process believed to take millions of years, they become coated in layers of liquefied metal, eventually turning into solid, lumpy rocks that look like burnt potatoes. These formations, known as polymetallic nodules, have caught the attention of international mining companies for what they harbor: rich deposits of commercially sought-after minerals such as cobalt, nickel, copper and manganese, the same metals used in batteries for renewable technologies such as electricity cars, wind turbines and solar panels.

But while some experts say we need to mine the deep sea to fight climate change, others warn against this, saying we know too little about the damage deep sea mining would cause to properties. lifelines of the oceans.


The first steps in deep sea mining

Actual mining has yet to begin, but in June 2021 the small Pacific island nation of Nauru brought the world closer to the possibility by notifying the International Seabed Authority, the intergovernmental body that oversees the mining in international waters, which had triggered a double year rule in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). In theory, this rule would allow you to start mining in June 2023 under the mining rules then in effect. Nauru itself does not have a mining company with this interest, but it does sponsor a subsidiary of The Metals Company, which is based in Canada and listed in the United States.

Since then, the ISA has been working on negotiating a set of regulations that would allow it to follow the two-year rule. But in the latest round of meetings that took place between July 4 and August 4 in Kingston, Jamaica, progress on the mining code appeared to have stalled, observers reported.

“Generally, the feeling in the room is that there is now a majority of states that recognize that this is unrealistic, unattainable and would be very irresponsible,” said Emma Wilson, a conservation expert who attended. at recent ISA meetings as a representative of the NGO. OceanCare, he told Mongabay.

Representatives from several countries, including Spain, Chile, New Zealand, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Federated States of Micronesia and Trinidad and Tobago, argued that mining regulations should not be rushed to meet the two-year deadline obligations. to reign. The representative of Spain, for example, said that “as a precaution, the time has come to take a break”, while the representative of Costa Rica said that “because we are responsible for the common heritage of humanity , our peoples and future generations, we must proceed with caution (UNCLOS defines the seabed and its resources as “the common heritage of mankind”).

Urgent Regulation

Countries such as Australia, the UK, Tonga and even Nauru have taken the position that the regulations should be passed without delay. Tonga’s representative said the nation stood “ready to support the work of the Authority and relevant bodies, in particular to complete regulatory frameworks in a timely manner while ensuring due diligence where necessary.” Even France said it was committed to adopting “a legal framework with rigorous environmental protections to ensure that damage to ecosystems in the marine environment is minimized”. This position seemed to contrast with President Emmanuel Macron’s statement at the UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon at the end of June that “we must create the legal framework to stop deep sea mining and not allow new activities that endanger ecosystems.

El 25 de julio, the delegation of Chile presented a map to the Secretariat of the ISA, requesting that a discussion on the regla de los dos años be invited in a agenda item in the part of the asamblea de las reuniones, que commenzó el 1st of August. But that request was ignored, Wilson of OceanCare said. Instead, the ISA Secretariat relegated it at the end of the meeting to the “any other business” category, which “undermined” it, and the ISA Secretariat even closed the meetings a day earlier, he added.

“One thing that has become very, very evident this week is that the ISA Secretariat is doing everything it can to sweep the conversation under the rug about [si] there is another possibility of not passing the settlement,” Wilson said.

Mongabay has previously reported concerns about transparency at recently concluded ISA meetings, including allegations that the ISA restricted access to key information and hindered interactions between member states and civil society.

Little clarity in the depths

Despite the many setbacks, Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC) policy and political adviser Matt Gianni told Mongabay he sees a shift in the negotiations.

“It’s widely recognized that unless something really unbelievable happens, it’s unlikely these regulations will be passed until July 2023, but probably not for several years at least,” said Gianni, who attended the meetings. meetings as a representative of EarthWorks, an NGO working to protect communities and the environment from the negative impacts of extractive activities.

Gianni added that the ISA Board has yet to agree on the financial mechanisms under which mining could operate, which need to be implemented, in addition to regulations, before ISA can issue permits. mining licenses. However, he said it was not yet clear if deep sea mining would officially stop.

“It’s a bit like the Titanic,” Gianni said. “We’re starting to see the rivets open and the thing is slowly starting to turn. But will the iceberg be missed and will it go in the direction of protecting the marine environment? That’s still a question opened. “

By Elizabeth C. Alberts. Articles in English

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