WWF is urging governments to stand firm against corporate pressure and defend the ocean at a critical deep seabed mining meeting starting today in Jamaica. State members of the International Seabed Authority (ISA) Council – the body responsible for the conservation of the international seabed and for regulating deep seabed mining – are meeting to discuss a procedural dilemma dubbed the “two-year rule” loophole from 10 to 21 July.
In 2021, Nauru triggered the “two-year rule” by declaring it wanted to submit an application on behalf of a company for a license to mine the deep sea. This in effect aimed to push states to finalize regulations within the two years, despite the original intention of the clause being to help overcome any impasse during negotiations, and ISA members still negotiating in good faith.
The rule states that after the two years, all applications must be considered for ‘provisional approval’, however, the ISA Council hasn’t agreed what this means or what happens next. As of yesterday, the rule has also now expired, leaving the process around deep seabed mining mired in legal uncertainty. WWF is calling on governments at the ISA to provide clarity on how applications are going to be dealt with, considering it would likely take several decades to complete the science needed to finalize regulations.
“As the rule has now expired, the worry is that it leaves the doors open to any country wanting to submit an application for exploitation, and it’s not at all clear what would then happen,” explains Kaja Lønne Fjærtoft, Policy Lead for WWF’s No Deep Seabed Mining Initiative. “Deep seabed mining would contravene many of the commitments governments have so fervently fought to secure – the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the Convention on Migratory Species, the Global Biodiversity Framework and even jeopardize the recent High Seas Treaty. These can’t just be writings in the sand. Deep seabed mining cannot be permitted to go ahead without the scientific knowledge required to govern it. The consequences could be existential for both marine and human lives, if countries don’t stand firm and support a global moratorium.”
Scientists estimate as little as 1.1% of the knowledge needed to draft science-based regulations for deep seabed mining exists, and the social and economic risks are also not clearly understood. WWF believes mining regulations cannot be completed or adopted in absence of the proven expertise to safely and effectively govern operations.
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“Deep seabed mining has the potential to cause irreversible damage to marine biodiversity, which is crucial for the ocean’s resilience to the impacts of the climate crisis,” explains Jessica Battle, Global Lead for WWF’s No Deep Seabed Mining Initiative. “Governments must ensure that decision-making at the ISA is not biased by slick corporate sales pitches, which are contradicted by hundreds of scientists. We cannot manage what we cannot measure, so leaving the situation as it is – open to interpretation – is extremely reckless.”
An increasing number of states are calling for a global moratorium or pause on deep seabed mining, with WWF urging all states to join this growing call at the upcoming ISA Assembly meeting 24-28 July 2023 in Jamaica. Indigenous leaders, human rights advocates, scientists and businesses – even those that would be potential end users of such minerals – are saying no to mining the seabed. Banks, insurers and fund managers are also increasingly seeing the risks of investing in this destructive industry.
While deep sea mining proponents claim their purpose is to support the net-zero carbon transition, by using the minerals in electric vehicle batteries for example, WWF maintains this transition does not need minerals from the deep sea. A WWF-commissioned report titled ‘The Future is Circular’ shows how the switch can be made without opening up the deep sea to mining, with the demand for seven critical minerals being reduced by up 58% through the use of technology, recycling and circular economy measures. A recent report by the European Academies Science Advisory Council also clearly states that the narrative that deep sea minerals are needed for the green shift is misleading and even categorized it as greenwashing.
A healthy ocean, where human activities are managed sustainably, is conservatively estimated to be worth US$24 trillion as an asset. This enormous value has been jeopardized by years of mismanagement, overexploitation and failure to act on climate change. Instead of adding additional stressors, governments must prioritize ocean protection that provide social, economic and cultural benefits for humanity into the future.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: View from Seirios as remotely operated vehicle Deep Discoverer gets a closer look at a ferromanganese-encrusted outcrop on an unnamed seamount in the eastern region of the Samoan Exclusive Economic Zone. Featured Photo Credit: NOAA Ocean Exploration.