WWF welcomes call for caution on deep seabed mining at International Seabed Authority

Posted on 05 August 2022

The ISA ended its Assembly meeting a day early, with a clear change of tone in the debate compared to its business as usual, which has been largely in the favour of mining the deep sea. This week instead we heard increased calls for precaution and for slowing down the rush to mine the ocean. 

WWF welcomes these common-sense calls for a more prudent approach.

The meeting left open the debate about whether the “two-year rule” is an appropriate standard to guide decisions as consequential as whether or how to initiate deep seabed mining. 

The rule, which says the ISA must develop regulations within two years if a country intends to apply for approval to begin deep seabed mining, was triggered in June 2021 by the Republic of Nauru. 

Several countries spoke up about legal uncertainties associated with the two-year timeline and cautioned against rushing creation of a legal framework that is of utmost importance. Chile, for example, proposed a pause of 15 years during which the ISA cannot approve plans for exploitation. This would allow time for the body of scientific knowledge to develop and for work to proceed in a responsible manner.

WWF strongly supports those countries that have gone even further, calling for a moratorium on deep seabed mining. Palau and Fiji, joined by Samoa, launched an alliance of states calling for a global moratorium in June at the UN Ocean Conference. Since then, the Federated States of Micronesia has joined, with other states and territories supporting and calling for precaution. 

“The momentum we saw for a moratorium at the UN Ocean Conference is accelerating,” says Jessica Battle, leader of WWF’s No Deep Seabed Mining Initiative. “There is a growing understanding of the inherent harm if this new extractive industry goes forward, and a sense that barreling ahead to meet an arbitrary deadline is simply reckless. It’s time to press pause.”  

The ISA needs to heed these calls for precaution, and instead of focusing on exploitation ensure the effective protection of the deep sea – one of Earth’s essential carbon sinks – for the future of our planet. This would need a reform process at the heart of the ISA, including ensuring a transparent governance structure where science is the basis for decision making.

The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, of which WWF is a member, has tracked the ISA discussions

Decarbonizing our economies is an urgent priority, but it doesn’t require opening the deep sea to mining. Rather, nations need to invest in circular economy solutions and 21st century mass transit systems that reduce individual car dependence. 

Large ocean states that look to deep seabed mining for immediate income need support and investment to develop economies based upon sustainability. This is how we’ll build resilient communities, and restore the health of our ocean and the planet.
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