International NGOs call out Norwegian Prime Minister’s mistaken claim that deep-sea mining can be done without harming ocean life

Posted on March, 29 2023

GLAND, Switzerland (29 March 2023) –  The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, including the likes of international NGOs such as WWF, Fauna & Flora and Greenpeace are calling out erroneous claims by the Norwegian Prime Minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, that deep-sea mining can be done in a way which does not harm natural diversity in the ocean – published on Thursday 23 March in regional Norwegian newspaper Bergens Tidende.

The call comes during the final week of the International Seabed Authority (ISA) Council meetings in Jamaica from 13-31 March, where crucial talks between states have been taking place around whether deep-sea mining should go ahead in the high seas, or a global moratorium should ensue.

A growing wave of countries are now asking for a precautionary pause, moratorium or ban on deep-sea mining, including: Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Finland, France, Germany, New Zealand, Palau, Panama, Samoa, Spain and Vanuatu.

More than 700 scientists from 44 countries have already highlighted how deep-sea mining would result in the loss of marine biodiversity and degradation of ecosystems, negating the Prime Minister’s recent statement. Despite this, the Norwegian Government continues to consider opening up part of the Norwegian Arctic to deep-sea mining; a globally important but delicate ecosystem already impacted by climate change. 

The Norwegian Government is currently considering mining 329,000km2 of its national waters – an area almost the size of Germany – even though Norwegian scientists say they lack information for 99% of it. Globally, scientists also acknowledge the vulnerability of sensitive deep-sea habitats like hydrothermal vents found in such waters. This area also crosses over into the Arctic, already in a vulnerable state, and in ocean areas that have not been subject to extractive activities before.   

Norway is also a co-chair, along with Palau, of the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy, a collective of 17 world leaders also known as the ‘Ocean Panel’. The Ocean Panel’s own expert report has warned that deep-sea mining conflicts with a sustainable ocean economy and the UN's sustainability goals. Ocean Panel members have committed to 100% sustainable ocean management by 2025 and that deep sea mining should only go-ahead if it is ‘ecologically sustainable’ – which it is not.

It is not only the environmental risks of deep-sea mining that need to be considered but also the social and economic. During the public consultation in Norway over 1000 citizens reached out calling for the Norwegian government to stop the Norwegian opening process and support an international moratorium on deep-sea mining. In the Pacific Islands, Palau, Fiji and Samoa are calling for a global moratorium, warning of the unknown impacts to both the seafloor, carbon storage in the deep, and wider marine biodiversity – vital for healthy fisheries and resilient coastal habitats to climate change. Indigenous leaders in the region are calling for a ban, citing concerns about the impact on their cultures and traditions, as well as fisheries. During the international negotiations on deep-sea mining currently underway in Jamaica, Palau called on states to “resist the siren songs of the industry, which promises millions of quick dollars, but at the risk and expense of our environment, as well as the rights of our future generations.”

Because of its sheer size, the deep-sea realm constitutes the largest contiguous habitat for species and ecosystem diversity on Earth, and supports many diverse ecosystem processes necessary for the Earth’s natural systems to function. The deep sea is also characterized by environmental conditions that make it highly vulnerable to human disturbance. The existing pressures and the fact that the deep sea contains a vast number of unexplored and unstudied ecosystems mean that extreme precaution is necessary at all times. Extraction must not go ahead until the environmental, social and economic risks are understood, and all responsible alternatives to deep-sea minerals have been explored. 

Organizations supporting this call: 

Jessica Battle, Lead, No Deep Seabed Mining Initiative, WWF International: “The Prime Minister’s suggestion that Norway open areas of the Arctic for seabed mining – while a wave of ocean states call for a pause or moratorium – is a complete contradiction of its stated aims to be a global ocean leader. Over 700 scientists have said no to the industry because there isn’t enough rigorous scientific information available concerning deep sea species and ecosystems. The statement is therefore completely unfounded, signaling a ‘false positive’ to the global mining industry and governments on impacts. Norway claims to be a lighthouse for sustainable ocean development but is steering the ship in the wrong direction.” 

Louisa Casson, Stop Deep Sea Mining Global Project Lead, Greenpeace International: “The statement from the Norwegian prime minister Jonas Gahr Støre claims that deep sea mining can be done without harming the biodiversity is a false claim that puts pristine ecosystems at risk. The science is clear, deep sea mining is simply impossible without biodiversity loss. We expect that the Norwegian Prime Minister listens to the science, respects the precautionary principle and says no to deep sea mining.”

Sophie Benbow, Marine Director, Fauna & Flora: “The scientific research analysed in Fauna & Flora’s recent update report unequivocally shows that the predicted consequences and huge uncertainties associated with deep-seabed mining must not be ignored. Bold decisions are required to put ocean health and the benefits of the deep sea for all humankind front and centre. We urge Norway to reconsider, as once initiated, deep-seabed mining and its effects may be impossible to stop.”

Daniel Cáceres, Sustainable Ocean Alliance: “As a representative of SOA, the world's largest youth Ocean Leadership organization, we are very worried about the Norwegian administration's statement. The recent statement made is not only false, but it is contrary to all that science has told us in the past couple of years. Having statements from administrations that ignore science risks not only Our Ocean but Our future.”

Sofia Tsenikli, Deep Sea Mining Moratorium Campaign Lead, Deep Sea Conservation Coalition: “By allowing the strip mining of the last remaining pristine areas of our planet, our generation would be scraping the bottom of the barrel, repeating the same mistakes that brought us to the biodiversity and climate crisis. We want to see Norway join the group of States acting for the protection of the deep-sea and call for a halt on deep-sea mining.” 

Steve Trent, CEO and Founder, Environmental Justice Foundation: “By suggesting that deep sea mining (DSM) can be conducted safely the Prime Minister of Norway is sending a deeply disturbing message to the world, that contradicts the science and fast increasing number of nations that are calling for a pause, moratorium or ban on DSM. The science is entirely clear: DSM cannot be conducted without the loss of unique deep-sea biodiversity and irreparable damage to fragile ecosystems, likely to critically impact carbon cycles and climate regulation. Norway can and should lead on the conservation and restoration of our ocean - we call now for the Prime Minister to lead and call for a moratorium or pause in deep-sea mining.”

Mekhala Dave, Ocean Law & Policy Analyst, TBA21:The Norwegian administration’s words go against the very grain of our Ocean’s survival in our collective fight against climate change. We look to our State representatives to rely on their correct assessment and translation of scientific evidence and data to facilitate political decisions. Yet, the messaging from the Norwegian administration could not have been more irresponsible in a post-truth era. We need clear and transparent directives as to where we need to stand: Do we stand with the Ocean and those from vulnerable and marginalized populations that will be affected? We ask the Norwegian to re-consider their messages and support the global call for action in favor of our Ocean.” 

Christian Steel, Director of The Norwegian Biodiversity Network (Sabima): “Norway moving forward with deep-sea mining would come with an extremely high risk for the very vulnerable biodiversity, and is strongly advised against by marine scientists.”

Truls Gulowsen, Head of Norwegian Society for The Conservation of Nature: “Norway normally highlights a science based approach, and we are disappointed to see such unsupported PR claims from our prime minister. It is clear that deep sea mining is a totally immature business that cannot be done without significant harm to the ocean environment. We call on Mr Store to correct this statement.”

Elise Åsnes, President of Spire: “Once again, the Norwegian government has shown that it has no qualms about disregarding science. In December, Norway celebrated the new biodiversity agreement in Montréal, and now the prime minister has fabricated a story about how it is possible to mine the seabeds supposedly without harming biodiversity. Norway needs to recommit to its pledges to prevent biodiversity loss and to listen to the scientific community when they tell us that this could be detrimental for biodiversity and for ecosystems.”

Susanna Fuller, VP Conservation and Projects, Oceans North: “Norway’s proposal to allow deep sea mining in its own Arctic waters is a dangerous and unnecessary precedent. Recent statements are counter to scientific knowledge and Indigenous knowledge with regards to impacts of mining on biodiversity and ecological systems. This is the opposite of ocean leadership.” 

Bobbi-Jo Dobush, Legal Officer and DSM Focal Point, The Ocean Foundation: “Norway’s proposal to mine its own deep ocean wilderness will destroy biodiversity and worsen stressors such as warming, acidification, and deoxygenation in the ocean. Such action is incompatible with Norway’s role as a leader on ocean issues, including as co-chair of the Ocean Panel. We call on Norway to reconsider its position, and protect - rather than exploit - the deep ocean so that it can continue to provide critical ecosystem services to Norwegians, and to all.”

Kathrine Sund-Henriksen, executive director of the Norwegian Forum for Development and Environment (ForUM): “The way Norway handles this has considerably weakened Norway's reputation as a responsible ocean nation internationally. We find that international organizations, science communities and other UN countries are shocked by Norway's rushed process of opening the continental shelf to deep sea mining. It's a paradox that Norway on one side advocates for sustainable ocean management as head of the UN Ocean Panel, while on the other demonstrates weak nature management through this opening process. We ask Norway to step out of this double standard role.” 


Notes to Editors
Requests for interviews or further information to Norway and deep sea mining 
Norway has an ongoing process to assess whether to open ocean areas for deep sea mining in national waters. As a part of the opening process the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy in Norway conducted an Impact Assessment that was in public consultation for three months. That consultation period has just ended, with the government receiving 1,100 comments from concerned citizens, but also from organizations.

The Norwegian Environment Agency, the expert government organization on impact assessments in Norway, have said that the impact assessment the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy has conducted does not fulfill the legal requirements of an impact assessment, and thus cannot justify opening areas.

The proposed timeline for opening is for the Ministry For Ministry for Petroleum and Energy to present a white paper to the Parliament this Spring 2023, and with first licenses possibly being given in fall 2023. This would mean Norway could be the first country in the world to deep sea mine its seabed, opening up the floodgates and signaling a green light to other nations.

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Cold- or Deep-water coral (Lophelia pertusa); Norway 2