WWF condemns Norway's deep seabed mining plans as "one of the worst environmental decisions Norway has ever made" as government plans to open ocean area larger than UK to mining

Posted on June, 20 2023

OSLO, Norway (20 June 2023) WWF strongly condemns the Norwegian government's decision today to open up 281,000 square kilometers of its ocean – an area larger than the size of the UK – to deep seabed mining in the sensitive Arctic. Norway is now likely to be the first nation in the world to start deep-sea mining operations, should the proposal be approved through its parliament later this year.

A whitepaper presented by The Ministry of Petroleum and Energy earlier today detailed the government's plans to open its extended continental shelf within the Arctic to deep seabed mining. There is still a chance, however, that this decision could be overturned through a vote in parliament, expected in October or November 2023. WWF is calling on the Norwegian government to immediately stop this process and support a global moratorium on deep seabed mining until the environmental, social and economic ramifications are clear, and a robust impact assessment is completed that complies with its national legal standards.

“This is one of the worst environmental decisions Norway has ever made,” explains Jessica Battle, Global Lead for WWF’s No Deep Seabed Mining Initiative. “This decision goes against the government’s own environmental agency, which has already declared that the recently concluded impact assessment, violates the country’s Seabed Minerals Act and doesn’t adequately address potential transboundary impacts to other nations because of a serious lack of scientific data. These waters contain vulnerable Arctic marine species and are already threatened by ice reduction from the impacts of the climate crisis. At a time when the world is celebrating the formal adoption of the High Seas Treaty just yesterday, this move by the Norwegian government is complete hypocrisy.”

The decision comes as nations are gearing up to attend the International Seabed Authority (ISA) Council meeting in July in Jamaica. States are expecting a decision on the ‘two-year rule’ triggered by Nauru. If Nauru submits a license and that is approved, it would be the first ever approved exploitation license for deep seabed mining in the high seas. With the mining regulations currently not in a state fit to be adopted due to serious knowledge gaps, WWF is calling for no license to be approved, and many countries are calling for a precautionary pause. 

If Norway proceeds with deep seabed mining, the ISA is currently set to receive 7% of its profits, as the proposal is located in Norway’s extended continental shelf, and not in Norway’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Despite the Norwegian government claiming their plans to accelerate deep seabed mining are to support the green transition, this has been refuted by international experts that have labeled these claims as misleading, most recently by the European Association of Science Councils. WWF’s Future is Circular report published in November last year, lays out clearly that the demand for minerals can be reduced by 58% through innovation in renewable technology and circular economy measures. The report details that through mandating product-life extension for everyday electronics containing precious minerals, such as mobile phones or computers, and material recovery among others, governments can lead the way toward a “closed-loop” economy that works with nature, not against it.

“This developed world green transition savior narrative that the Norwegian government seems to be pushing is all smoke and mirrors,” says Kaja Lønne Fjærtoft, Global Policy Lead for WWF’s No Deep Seabed Mining Initiative. “Deep seabed mining is not necessary to meet the demand and will come too late to contribute to the energy transition. We do not need to open up a new industrial frontier with unknown planetary consequences, we must invest in a sustainable circular economy, meeting the demand through urban mining and alternative innovative technologies. We are in the midst of a climate and biodiversity crisis. We must not try to solve a problem while ignoring predicted consequences that could make the original problem even bigger.” 

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 known as the ‘Ocean Panel’. Ocean Panel members have committed to 100% sustainable ocean management by 2025, and that deep seabed mining should only go ahead if it is ‘ecologically sustainable’ - which it is not. Palau is already calling for a moratorium on deep seabed mining, WWF believes Norway should follow suit or indeed yield its leadership under the current circumstances.

Norway's plan also contradicts the scientific advice around designating marine protected and conserved areas in the Arctic. “As new chair of the Arctic Council, Norway has declared its priorities to 'develop an Arctic network of conserved and protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures', as well as 'implementing ecosystem-based ocean management'. This decision undermines the Norwegian chairship ambitions from the outset,” says Vicki Lee Wallgren, Arctic Programme Director, WWF.

WWF and many other international and national organizations, along with more than 1,000 of Norwegian citizens have previously called on the government to stop the opening process and support a moratorium on deep seabed mining. While other countries are making responsible decisions that uphold international commitments under the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the Convention on Migratory Species and the High Seas Treaty, Norway’s decision contravenes these.


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