Deep sea mining decision delayed as International Agency continues to finalize rules

July 24, 2023

The International Seabed Authority's (ISA) member nations failed to adopt final rules, regulations, and procedures (RRPs, also known as the Mining Code) for deep sea mining, but agreed to continue negotiations while mapping out a two-year roadmap for the adoption of deep sea mining regulations.

The ISA, an intergovernmental body tasked with protecting the seabed, and its member states have spent the last decade trying to hash out a Mining Code for the possible exploitation of nickel, cobalt and copper in deep seabed areas that fall outside of national jurisdictions. reported that for two weeks, the ISA meet in Jamaica in an attempt to create final rules for mining in the sea. Following the two-week meeting the ISA said it "intends to continue the elaboration" of regulations "with a view to their adoption at the 30th session of the Authority" in 2025.

"This is an indicative target," rather than a deadline, said council chairman Juan Jose Gonzalez Mijares.

Since July 9, after the expiration of a deadline triggered by the small Pacific state of Nauru in 2021, the ISA is obligated to consider — though not necessarily grant — licenses for mining operations if governments request them.

That would go beyond the status quo, which has so far only seen the body grant exploration permits, as the deep sea mining sector itches to take off in earnest.

The Metals Company (TMC), one of the industry leaders in deep sea mining, applauded the decision.

“It is now a question of when — rather than if — commercial-scale nodule collection will begin,” TMC Chairman and CEO Gerard Barron said in a statement. “Since June 2022, under strong pressure from global NGOs, 17 ISA Member States representing a minority of the 169 ISA Members have formally supported a precautionary pause, moratorium or a ban on deep sea mining. While the legal obligations of Member States to adopt RRPs pursuant to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the Part XI Implementation Agreement remain unchanged, these actions introduced a degree of political uncertainty around the timing of the adoption of the Mining Code. The consensus decision that included Member States who have called for a precautionary pause is a hard-won compromise that reduces this uncertainty. We are obviously disappointed that the ISA failed to adopt RRPs by 9 July 2023 as we hoped two years ago. But we also recognize that the vast majority of Member States worked very hard in the last 24 months and demonstrated strong continued commitment to finalizing the Mining Code through increased number of formal sessions and 12 informal intersessional working groups. I believe the finish line is now within sight and we look forward to the consolidated regulatory text at the next meeting in November 2023.”

“We are no longer in a 'what if' scenario, but rather 'what now'," Nauru's ambassador to the ISA Margo Deiye said during the session, adding that her government planned to soon apply for a mining contract.

The ISA Assembly and its 167 member states will discuss for the first time a "precautionary pause" in mining, supported by about 20 countries, including France, Chile and Brazil.

NGOs and scientists say that deep sea mining could destroy habitats and species that may still be unknown but are potentially vital to ecosystems.

They also say it risks disrupting the ocean's capacity to absorb carbon dioxide emitted by human activities, and that its noise interferes with the communication of species such as whales

 Photo: The Metals Company


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