No green light for mining the deep sea

Posted on 29 July 2023

No green light for mining the deep sea given at global deep seabed mining meeting, and ocean champion countries save the day ensuring the protection of the marine environment will be on the agenda. A moratorium is the only choice until the science is in place and the ocean can be protected, says WWF.
Kingston, JAMAICA – After three weeks of intense negotiations on deep-sea mining at the International Seabed Authority (ISA) meetings in Jamaica, no green light was given to deep-sea mining and no regulations were adopted.

The 168 member states ISA Assembly ended today, after fierce negotiations on a proposal to, for the first time, discuss the protection of the marine envrîronment and whether deep-sea mining should go ahead. The proposal by Chile, Vanuatu, Palau, France and Costa Rica was blocked by a handful of states all through the Assembly week. However, in the last hour of the Assembly, the champion states ensured that the protection of the marine environment will be held at the next Assembly in mid-2024. 

“We’ve seen intense debate at the ISA between those who want to progress deep seabed mining, and those who are wisely choosing a more precautionary stewardship to preserve the common good of humankind,” says Jessica Battle, Lead for WWF’s No Deep Seabed Mining Initiative. “The compromise decision reached here today opens the door to have a proper discussion involving all member states of the ISA on protecting the marine environment and whether deep seabed mining can go ahead at all. This is an important step forward.”

Over the last three weeks across the world, what’s become clearer every day is that more governments, businesses, financial institutions, scientists, civil society, Indigenous Peoples, faith groups and communities are taking a stand against deep seabed mining – as they recognize the injustice and destruction it will bring,” Battle continues.

A total of 21 countries have to date joined in the call for a ban, precautionary pause or moratorium on deep seabed mining, with Canada, Brazil, Finland and Portugal making announcements during the ISA meetings. Companies representing 32% of the global tuna industry announced their concerns, 37 financial institutions managing over 3.3 trillion euro in assets said potential risks need to be understood and the UN Commissioner on Human Rights advised governments against deep-sea mining

“The ocean is already under severe stress from multiple pressures including overfishing, pollution and climate change,” adds Battle. “Deep seabed mining would just add another pressure at a time when we should be restoring the ocean, so it can fulfill its potential as our main ally against the climate crisis. A functioning ocean ecosystem is the best buffer, best mitigation and best adaptation tool we have for addressing the impacts of climate change. A moratorium on deep seabed mining is the only choice until the science is in place and the effective protection of the marine environment can be guaranteed.”

Meanwhile, the much awaited “two-year loophole” remains open, as no clear decision was given from the closing ISA Council last Friday. The looming threat of unregulated deep seabed mining remains, to which the full extent of its impact if allowed to go ahead is still unclear. Scientists estimate as little as 1.1% of the knowledge needed to draft science-based regulations exists. 

What is clear, however, is that this extractive industry is not needed to support the green transition. A WWF commissioned report shows that the demand for the studied minerals can be reduced by 58% through technological choices, recycling and circular economy measures, such as product-life extension and materials recovery. The European Academies Science Advisory Council also concluded the argument that deep seabed mining is needed for the green transition is misleading.

“The ocean is the foundation for all life on this planet,” says Kaja Lønne Fjærtoft, Policy Lead for WWF’s No Deep Seabed Mining Initiative. “We need to focus our efforts toward a circular economy – addressing both the dual biodiversity and climate crises together, or we risk solving neither.”

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Notes to Editors
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Iridigorgia deep sea coral
© Image courtesy of Aquapix and Expedition to the Deep Slope 2007