International Seabed Authority meets to determine future of deep sea mining

November 7, 2022

During the United Nations-affiliated International Seabed Authority (ISA) meeting in Kingston, Jamaica, a number of the ISA Council’s 36 member states called for a “precautionary pause” or a moratorium on deep sea mining due to a lack of scientific data on the areas of the seabed targeted for exploitation.

Germany, France, Spain, Costa Rica, New Zealand, Chile, Panama, Fiji and the Federated States of Micronesia were among the ISA Council members calling for the pause to enact mining regulations by July 2023, a deadline established last year.

Beyond the ISA meeting, French President Emmanuel Macron called for an outright ban on deep sea mining at the UN’s Climate Summit, COP27 in Egypt. Meanwhile, Brazil, the Netherlands, Portugal, Singapore, Switzerland and other Council members also indicated they would not approve any mining contracts until sufficient environmental protections for unique deep ocean ecosystems are in place, regardless of the July deadline, Bloomberg reported.

Some nations, however, including the United Kingdom and Norway, expressed confidence that the regulations could be finalized by the deadline. China cautioned against focusing “single-handedly on only the protection of the environment.”

A comprehensive review of available research on areas of the deep ocean set for exploitation, published in March in the journal Marine Policy, concluded that a lack of scientific knowledge about those ecosystems precludes effective management of mining. The paper’s authors included prominent scientists and four members of the ISA committee that writes mining regulations.

Mining companies have argued that deep-sea mining will have less of an environmental impact than terrestrial mining and is necessary to provide the metals for electric car batteries and other green technologies needed to combat climate change.

The ISA, which includes 167 member nations and the European Union, was established in 1994 by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea treaty to regulate mining in international waters while ensuring the protection of the marine environment. Over the past 21 years, the ISA has issued exploration contracts to state-backed enterprises, government agencies and private companies to prospect for minerals over more than 500,000 square miles of the seabed in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans. Each mining contractor must be sponsored by an ISA member nation, which is responsible for ensuring compliance with environmental regulations.

Until last year, the ISA Council had been slowly negotiating regulations that would allow mining to proceed. Then in June 2021, Nauru, a Pacific island nation with a population of 8,000, triggered a provision in the Law of the Sea treaty that requires the ISA to complete regulations within two years.

Nauru is a sponsor of a subsidiary of The Metals Company, a Canadian-registered company formerly known as DeepGreen that also holds mining contracts sponsored by two other small Pacific island nations. If the ISA does not approve regulations by July 2023, it may be required to provisionally approve The Metals Company’s application for a mining license under whatever environmental protections are in place at the time. Nauru triggered the two-year rule after The Metals Company told potential investors it expected to begin mining in 2024, according to US securities filings.



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