The International Seabed Authority (ISA) last week concluded their 26th Meeting of the Council in Kingston, Jamaica to debate a “roadmap” designed to open a whole new frontier of industrial resource extraction in the deep ocean by allowing deep-sea mining to begin within the next year and a half.
The meeting of the Council which ran from 6-10 December focused on a proposal by the Secretary-General of the ISA to negotiate and adopt mining regulations by July 2023, to allow countries to apply for contracts to begin strip-mining the deep sea.
In scheduling the meeting last week, in spite of protests from a number of countries, the Secretary-General of the ISA claimed that the ISA must adopt the regulations by July 2023 because the Pacific Island nation of Nauru earlier this year triggered a so-called ‘two-year rule’ in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea which requires the ISA to do so. However, many of the member countries of the ISA Council, including the African Group in a submission earlier this year, have made it clear that other options are available to the ISA which may not in fact require adopting the mining regulations in the next 18 months.
The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC) agrees and has called on the ISA to focus on safeguarding the health of the ocean by agreeing to a moratorium on deep-sea mining. The Coalition also highlighted that one benefit of a pause on deep-sea mining would be to allow the ISA to focus on promoting deep-sea scientific research, to advance the protection of critical and fragile deep-sea habitats.
The DSCC’s Duncan Currie told the ISA Council “The DSCC is profoundly concerned at the direction this organization is being asked to take and the road map is a map which would take it entirely in the wrong direction. The roadmap should include the necessity for a moratorium while these issues are debated and we have the necessary scientific knowledge.”
Scientists have warned that biodiversity loss in the deep ocean would be inevitable and irreversible if the ISA would permit deep-sea mining to occur.
Matthew Gianni, representing Earthworks, a member of the DSCC, at the ISA meeting, called on member countries to live up to their commitments through the Leader’s Pledge for Nature to halt biodiversity loss and not allow deep-sea mining to take place. He said “governments need to put the brakes on these negotiations and rethink what their predecessors believed was a good idea during the Law of the Sea negotiations over 40 years ago. A moratorium is needed to focus on a fundamental reform of the ISA and the international legal regime for mining the deep sea as well as ensure that deep-sea mining does not do damage to the marine environment.
Guam last week called on the ISA to support a moratorium on deep-sea mining in order to protect ocean ecosystems from environmental harm and to ensure health of Guam’s people, citing the impacts associated with climate change, facing the Pacific Island Nation, and underscoring the need not to add additional stressors to ocean health. This comes on the heels of similar resolutions recently adopted by the regional legislatures of Galicia and the Canary Islands in Spain.
This week, Dr. Sandor Mulsow, former Head of Office of Environmental Management and Mineral Resources at the ISA warned that “the way ISA is working at the moment, it is not fit to regulate any activity in the oceans” urging countries instead to support a moratorium until there is more scientific certainty surrounding the impacts of deep-sea mining.
The clock is ticking on deep-sea mining as would-be miner Nauru Offshore Resources Inc (NORI), a subsidiary of The Metals Company (TMC), triggered the ‘two-year rule’ earlier this year. However, momentum for a moratorium continues to grow; with 622 scientists along with government ministries and agencies from 37 IUCN member countries calling for a moratorium on deep-sea mining. Leading companies including Volkswagen, BMW Group, Volvo Group, Google, Samsung SDI, Scania, Philips, Patagonia, and banks such as Triodos Bank, have all called for a moratorium on deep-sea mining and pledged to keep deep-sea minerals from their supply chains into the risks to biodiversity are better understood. Fishing industry associations across Europe have also called for a moratorium.