United Kingdom backs moratorium of deep-sea mining

October 31, 2023

The United Kingdom announced that it will support a moratorium on commercial deep-sea mining, joining at least 20 countries, including Brazil, France, Germany, Sweden and Canada, in calling for a pause on supporting exploration licenses.

In July, the International Seabed Authority (ISA), a quasi-United Nations body charged with regulating deep sea mining in international waters met in Jamaica. No decision was reached on the future of deep sea mining however, member states agreed to discuss a moratorium.

The Guardian reported that Britain is backing a moratorium on commercial deep-sea mining, after criticism from scientists, MPs and environmentalists of its previous stance in support of the emerging industry, at least until the environmental effects of seabed exploitation are better understood.

Dozens of scientists warned the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, that allowing industrial-scale exploitation of the seabed could have grave consequences, both for marine life and for the ability of the ocean – one of the planet’s greatest carbon sinks – to absorb carbon dioxide.

Even car manufacturers such as BMW and Volvo, and the car battery maker Samsung, have pledged not to use deep-sea minerals in vehicles.
Britain’s environment secretary, Thérèse Coffey, said a UK-based environmental science network on deep-sea mining would be launched, to gather data and help fill in gaps in evidence on the environmental impact of mining. It would use its scientific expertise to “fully understand the impact of deep-sea mining on precious ecosystems, and in the meantime we will not support or sponsor any exploitation licenses”, Coffey said.
The ISA began fresh negotiations on Oct. 30.

The UK government holds two exploration licences to extract metals from the floor of the Pacific Ocean. It is among 14 countries sponsoring exploration or research contracts – the only type allowed so far – by companies intent on mining the deep sea. The others are China, Russia, South Korea, India, France, Poland, Brazil, Japan, Jamaica, Belgium, Nauru, Tonga and Kiribati.

Mining companies say that harvesting minerals, including copper, nickel and cobalt, from the ocean instead of land is cheaper and less environmentally damaging.

Scientists and environmental groups counter that less than 1 percent of the world’s deep seas have been explored, and warn that deep-sea mining could unleash noise, light and suffocating dust storms. In June, the European Academies Science Advisory Council warned of “dire consequences” for marine ecosystems should deep-sea mining go ahead. Scientists have also expressed concerns about spills of fuels and about other chemicals used in the mining process.



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