Deep seabed mining – out of sight, out of touch

As we all focus on the Climate Conference in Glasgow, it is becoming increasingly clear that the ocean and the climate are interlinked components of the Earth system – and that we must address both the climate and the ocean crises to ensure a sustainable future for humanity and the planet.

At the same time, and totally out of touch with this understanding, some governments and companies advocate for the opening up of the fragile deep-sea floor to mining. Deep seabed mining is being advocated for as the solution to the current economic system’s insatiable appetite for minerals, and as necessary for decarbonising our economy. Gullible investors are being led by the nose by simplistic PR based upon old fashioned thinking and linear resource use, all while airbrushing away the environmental impacts and selectively using science as it pleases them.

But to succeed in reducing our human footprint upon nature and the atmosphere, we must rethink how our societies are being organised and transform them into a caring and sharing economy based upon circular flows as expressed in the RISE UP goal: S -Speed the Transition to a Circular and Sustainable Economy.

Science today already tells us that the sores inflicted upon huge areas of the seafloor from extractive practices might never be healed. The ocean’s ability to absorb carbon, regulate the climate and provide healthy protein would be seriously reduced were we to go ahead with deep sea mining.

The governance system that is meant to regulate the industry is far from ready, and reform is required of the very body, the International Seabed Authority, that has the seemingly impossible task of both issuing mining licences and ensuring the deep sea is not harmed by mining. Profits for the industry, should it go ahead, will most likely not be shared equitably – despite it relying on the natural capital of our global commons, the international seabed.

At the very minimum, a global freeze, a moratorium, on deep seabed mining is urgently needed to slow this race to the bottom by a few to the detriment of many. Such a freeze is being called for with increasing frequency by states, scientists, civil society and businesses. The triggering of an obscure rule in the Law of the Sea Convention by the tiny island state Nauru, a sponsoring state of a prospective multinational deep seabed mining company based in Vancouver, has now effectively set a deadline for this important decision – June 2023.

In late March this year, a statement by businesses calling for a moratorium was launched and received much media attention. The businesses signing on to the statement, BMW Group, Samsung SDI, Volvo Group, Google and Phillips, also commit to not sourcing minerals from the deep sea and not to investing in deep seabed mining activities. It is open for sign-on to all businesses concerned about our ocean but also those caring about ensuring our economy is transformed into a circular flow with reduced footprint on our planet.

At the IUCN World Conservation Congress in September, a large majority of states and NGOs adopted a resolution suggesting a global moratorium on deep seabed mining, including a reform of the ISA. Over 600 scientists are also calling for a pause on deep seabed mining, through an open letter to governments.

Those at the frontlines of both the climate and the ocean crises, communities in the Pacific, are raising the alarm too – and have joined forces through the Pacific Blue Line, saying deep seabed mining is ‘not needed, not wanted, not consented’. Clearly, the industry has no social licence to go ahead.

The arguments for opening up the deep seabed to a new extractive industry simply do not hold. The many communities across the planet depending upon a healthy ocean, the businesses being held hostage by industry as purported customers, and scientists are all saying no to deep seabed mining.

Policy makers and investors can and must instead help steer towards a resilient, sustainable and just economy and society.

I look forward to working with forward-thinking governments and businesses, as well as the RISE UP network, to put a stop to the rush to carve up the seabed. There is a lot at stake, and no time to lose.

Jessica Battle is WWF’s Senior Global Ocean Governance and Policy Expert, and Lead Deep Seabed Mining Initiative. Follow @Jessica_WWF on Twitter

Qualifying disclaimer

This is a guest blog and may not necessarily represent the views of other RISE UP network members or the RISE UP as a whole. It is only through open dialogue and a diversity of ideas that we will arrive at the solutions necessary to restore Ocean health.

Posted on Categories News Updates
Date Published: 3rd November 2021