Deep sea mining at a watershed moment; states becoming critical
Ireland and Sweden joined the parties critical of deep-sea mining (which include scientists, environmental organizations, and multinational tech corporations like BMW, Volvo, and Samsung).
The international debate on deep-sea mining of metals has reached a critical juncture as more countries call for the suspension of the practice.
A report by The Guardian shows the implications of deep-sea mining and presents the prospects of regulating the practice by the International Seabed Authority (ISA).
This week, Ireland and Sweden, two developed economies renowned for their commitment to environmental protection, joined the parties critical of deep-sea mining.
The two countries joined a diverse assortment of anti-deep sea mining countries which include scientists, environmental organizations, and multinational tech corporations (like BMW, Volvo, and Samsung).
These corporations have taken a proactive stance by pledging not to use minerals sourced from the seabed in their products, citing ethical and environmental concerns associated with deep-sea mining as the reason.
No recent deep-sea mining contracts have been authorized yet, however, the industry, enjoying the support of some states like Norway, is pushing to expedite mining activities in the planet's last unexplored frontier.
The International Seabed Authority (ISA), the quasi-UN body responsible for regulating deep-sea mining, is set to convene in Kingston, Jamaica from 10 July until 28 July to resume negotiations.
The deep-sea mining industry has been flailing to close commercial deals before the ISA convenes on Monday to ensure that they aren't restrained by any regulation the convention might entail.
The Consequences of Deep Sea Mining
The stakes of unregulated deep-sea mining are high as scientists warn of severe and irreversible harm to global ocean ecosystems, which are already under threat from climate and biodiversity crises.
Experts warn that deep-sea mining below 200 meters can result in detrimental noise, vibration, and light pollution. There is also the risk of leaks and spills of chemicals and fuels used in the mining process.
Moreover, codifying adequate regulations is hampered by insufficient knowledge available about the ocean's abyss.
Sweden and Ireland have now joined the growing list of countries calling for a moratorium, pause, or ban on commercial deep-sea mining. Germany, France, Spain, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Chile, Panama, Palau, Fiji, and the Federated States of Micronesia are among the countries supporting these measures.
French President Emmanuel Macron has endorsed a complete ban. Even countries that have not yet backed a moratorium have indicated they will not grant approval without appropriate regulations.
Currently, the ISA permits companies to explore the deep sea solely for research purposes. The authority has formulated regulations for 31 exploration contracts sponsored by 14 nations, including China, Russia, South Korea, India, Britain, France, Poland, Brazil, Japan, Jamaica, and Belgium.
Regulations of Deep Sea Mining
Numerous critical issues remain unresolved within the draft regulations. The ISA has yet to determine permissible levels of environmental harm, the criteria for evaluating such harm, and the assessment of liability and penalties.
Decision-making power within the ISA primarily rests with the Legal and Technical Commission (LTC), a small group of experts composed of lawyers, geologists, and diplomats, with limited representation from environmentalists.
There is currently no scientific assessment group to review applications or an inspectorate to ensure compliance. If the LTC recommends approving an exploitation contract, it can only be overturned by a two-thirds super-majority vote from the council, consisting of 36 states.
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Indigenous communities and smaller island nations have raised additional concerns, particularly regarding benefit sharing from mining activities, for which there is currently no mechanism in place.
During the upcoming meeting, the ISA will consider a new proposal from France, Chile, Costa Rica, Palau, and Vanuatu to implement a moratorium on deep-sea mining until comprehensive regulations are established. This proposal would require approval by a super-majority of the 36 council members.
Proponents of deep-sea mining question the legality of the ISA implementing a moratorium. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which established the ISA, charges the authority with regulating mining activities and protecting the marine environment. However, the treaty also emphasizes that the seabed and its mineral resources are the "common heritage of mankind," and part of the ISA's mandate includes equitable sharing of financial benefits.