Norwegian parliament advances deep seabed mining: A catastrophe for the ocean

Posted on December, 07 2023

The Norwegian government has agreed with two opposition parties to proceed with plans of exploration of deep seabed mining in Norwegian waters. The agreement was announced at a press conference today. With this, Norway is set to be one of the first countries in the world to commercially mine the seabed for minerals. 

"This decision is a catastrophe for the ocean, and leaves a big stain on Norway's reputation as a responsible ocean nation. The fact that the government and parts of the opposition now agree to move forward with seabed mining against all expert advice, with an impact assessment that has been widely criticized, is nothing short of a scandal," said Kaja Lønne Fjærtoft, Global Policy Lead for the WWF No Deep Seabed Mining Initiative.   

In June, the Norwegian government proposed opening an area the size of the UK for deep seabed mining. The government's white paper was met with severe criticism from ocean experts, the environmental movement and companies, and also attracted international attention and critique. The Norwegian Environmental Agency stated that there was no legal basis for the opening due to significant knowledge gaps. The same conclusion was reached in a legal analysis commissioned by WWF and conducted by Wikborg Rein. Peter Haugan, the leader of the expert panel for The High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy, also called the opening a "warned disaster." 

"The deep sea is the world's largest carbon reservoir and our last untouched wilderness, with unique wildlife and important habitats that do not exist anywhere else on Earth. Rushing the opening process and permitting a potentially destructive industry without addressing significant knowledge gaps may have catastrophic consequences," said Kaja Lønne Fjærtoft. 

According to the agreement among the parties holding the majority in the Norwegian Parliament, an exploration phase will be initiated where environmental and geological data will be collected. Before any exploitation can begin, a summary report of the status of environmental knowledge and the proposal for the mining project will have to be presented to parliament. Then the parliament will vote on whether to allow exploitation. This means that the parliament has the possibility to say no to exploitation.  
"The small glimmer of hope is that environmental knowledge must be compiled before extraction potentially occurs, and presented to the parliament along with the mining plans. This gives parliament the opportunity to say no to exploitation, which is a significant change to the government’s proposal,” said Kaja Lønne Fjærtoft. 
“Both in Norway and internationally, we are far from having enough knowledge about the consequences deep seabed mining can have on life in the vulnerable ecosystems in the deep sea. Therefore, the only responsible course of action is a moratorium on seabed mining, until we have the knowledge we need and can ensure that no harmful effects to the marine environment will arise," said Kaja Lønne Fjærtoft.

Notes to Editors

This new proposal discusses the exploration of deep seabed mining, but with a new final decision for parliament before exploitation. This is the response of the coalition majority government but a final vote will still proceed on January 9th. Exploitation will be a decision for parliament to take at a later time when the first plans are proposed. The timeline for this is uncertain.

A WWF-commissioned report titled ‘The Future is Circular’ shows how the switch can be made without opening up the deep sea to mining, with the demand for seven critical minerals being reduced by up 58% through the use of technology, recycling and circular economy measures. A report also by the European Academies Science Advisory Council also clearly states that the narrative that deep sea minerals are needed for the green shift is misleading and even categorized it as greenwashing.