Greenpeace expresses major concerns over deep seabed mining at International Seabed Authority

Representatives of Greenpeace International are currently in Kingston. Why? They want to express their anxiety in the strongest way they can about the looming possibility of deep seabed mining, and along with the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, are calling for a moratorium on such activities. Greenpeace is one of the 32 non-governmental organizations who are observers at the 27th Session of the International Seabed Authority; they cannot participate in any decision-making activities but can make presentations at the sessions.

Part 1 of the current meeting of the International Seabed Authority under way (March 21 to April 1). The focus is on “focus on draft regulations for deep-seabed mineral resources exploitation.” (Photo: ISA)

The International Seabed Authority (ISA) is headquartered in downtown Kingston, Jamaica. It was established in 1994 under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and according to its website it “is the organization through which States Parties to UNCLOS organize and control all mineral-resources-related activities in the Area for the benefit of mankind as a whole. In so doing, ISA has the mandate to ensure the effective protection of the marine environment from harmful effects that may arise from deep-seabed related activities.”

So it’s a truly global organization (167 members plus the European Union) that meets at the Jamaica Conference Centre once per year to discuss, among other things, marine scientific research, data collection, environmental protection – and deep seabed mining. The last two might, indeed, seem contradictory, wouldn’t you say?

So, let’s “dive in,” so to speak. In February the ISA held a Webinar entitled “Equitable sharing of financial and other economic benefits from deep-seabed mining.” You can find a recording here.

Yes, some ISA members are apparently very interested in the money to be made – the commercial potential of digging/sucking up our fragile, largely unexplored seabed. The latest phase of humans’ depradation of their planetary home, it seems, is to extract as much as possible from the very core of its being. Here on our fragile small island, it is bauxite mining, to be followed by a big wave of limestone quarrying.

Relicanthus sp. — a new species from a new order of Cnidaria collected at 4,100 meters in the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone (CCZ) that lives on sponge stalks attached to nodules.
Photo Credit: NOAA

And now, the ISA is discussing how to share the spoils of plundering the deep seabed. And this could start happening in less than two years, unless urgent action is taken. See below…

Time is running out.

Last week, I spoke with Arlo Hemphill, a Greenpeace USA senior oceans campaigner. Many thanks to Kingston native Tanya Brooks, who is Senior Strategic Communications Specialist with Greenpeace USA. Yes, Tanya is Jamaican. I appreciate her work! I will write about this conversation later, but as background I am sharing first the text of the interventions made by Greenpeace and the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition at the ISA Meeting.

Duncan Currie is an international policy advisor, who delivered the interventions on behalf of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (which consists of 90 non-governmental organizations, fishers’ organizations, and law and policy institutes).

As the Coalition says: We must defend the deep. The implications for our planet – climate change, biodiversity, ecosystem destruction, and more – are terrible to imagine.

Greenpeace International Intervention at the 27th Session of the International Seabed Authority

Kingston, March 21, 2022

Thank you Mr President,

Dear Delegates,

Greenpeace International joins the many ISA Member States who called for an end to war this morning, and applauds the solidarity for peace demonstrated in this room. We also align ourselves with the comments made here by the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition. Thank you to Jamaica for hosting this meeting.

As we begin this 27th Session of the ISA, Greenpeace International remains extremely concerned about the way things are moving forward within this international organisation. With the triggering of the two-year rule by Nauru last June, there appears to be a heightened pace within the ISA to rush into seabed mining in spite of its legal obligations, first and foremost, to ensure the protection of the marine environment, including the seabed, which is the common heritage of humankind.

We call on the Council to listen to the 621 scientists that have signed a statement warning of the loss of biodiversity on ecosystem functioning, to the recent resolution of the IUCN World Conservation Congress and to the European Parliament, among others – all of which have called for a moratorium on deep-sea mining. We remind Member States that deep sea mining companies have been telling us that seabed minerals are critical for the clean energy transition.

Yet since the Council last met in December, French automaker Renault and US automaker Rivian have committed to not use deep sea minerals in their supply chains and are calling on governments to support a moratorium on this reckless practice. They join prominent leaders in the tech, EV and battery sectors who have already made such commitments, including BMW, Volkswagen, Volvo Group, Scandia, Google and Samsung. These commitments raise doubts among the public and investors alike that if this sector is supposed to drive the market for deep seabed minerals, will a market exist for them at all?

We call on State parties to the ISA – many who have made bold public commitments for ocean protection in other fora, including during the 4th Intergovernmental Conference on Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) which just concluded 3 days ago at UN Headquarters in New York – to act and put the brakes on this process, which is not inevitable and which is out of step with the rest of the world.

Thank you Mr. President.

A bioluminescent jellyfish discovered at a depth of 13,000 meters (4,000 feet) by the E/V Nautilus off the coast Baja California, Mexico. A recent research project underscores what scientists and companies have been discovering – marine life, both known and as-yet-undiscovered species, may hold answers to some of the most pressing medical problems. But these new discoveries are coming as deep-sea habitats face growing threats from climate change, overfishing and seabed mining. (Photo: E/V Nautilus from The New Humanitarian website).

Greenpeace International Intervention at the 27th Session of the International Seabed Authority

Kingston, 22 March 2022

Thank you Mr President,

Dear Delegates,

Greenpeace International expresses our concern over the presentation we witnessed this morning on behalf of MIT. Scientists have already clearly told us that ecosystems on the deep seabed cannot recover from disruption on human time scales. We know from our scientists that deep sea ecosystems cannot be restored once destroyed or mitigated by promoting recovery in an alternate location. Destruction of life on the deep seabed – of species we often don’t even know yet- means losing ecosystems and most probably entire forms of life we will never see again, and that needs to be part of the discussion here.

This kind of economic valuation completely fails to capture the services provided by deep sea ecosystems, which are essential, as the DSCC pointed out yesterday. It is unacceptable at any cost to damage functions that are major contributors to a stable climate and the air we breathe, particularly with all the unknowns that remain on the impacts of this nascent industry.

One thing is clear: as several States were pointing out yesterday, we do not yet have the science needed to understand the full consequences of moving forward with this industry, and that a moratorium on its practice is the only rational way forward.

Thank you Mr President.

A glass octopus found in the deep seas of the Central Pacific Ocean. (Photo: Schmidt Ocean Institute)

Deep Sea Conservation Coalition Intervention at Open-Ended Working Group

March 22, 2022

Thank you Mr Facilitator.

We listened carefully to the discussion last night and this morning. A fundamental problem has been discussed here- that is, the ISA has a mandate to effectively protect the marine environment from harmful effects arising from mining activities, and yet environmental externalities are not included in this exercise, leaving the environment and damage to the environment to one side.

The environment cannot be put to one side.

Environmental externalities, intergenerational equity and damage to fisheries, carbon sequestration processes, to marine genetic resources and to the marine environment matter. And so does irreversible damage – damage to the seabed, damage from plumes, including to coastal communities and damage to fisheries. Failing to quantify these matters does not make them go away.

Mr Facilitator, it is reassuring that Germany, Spain, Fiji, UK, Chile and Costa Rica, African Group, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Italy, Australia and Nigeria together with Greenpeace, have recognised the importance of externalities and the environment.

We note also that many leading companies are pre-divesting from using minerals from the deep sea, as well as advances in battery technology reducing demand for deep-sea metals, and we have not seen any economic valuation or discussion of those impacts.

We appreciate these are not easy exercises, but they are essential exercises, and with a moratorium we would have time. What we must not do is press ahead, waving environmental damage to one side, because it is too difficult. More economic science on environmental matters is to be welcomed.

We do want to be clear that there is no case for damaging the environment, even if it has been valued.

The uncertainties inherent in deep-sea mining alone make this very clear. A moratorium would give us time to undertake these studies.

Thank you Mr Facilitator.

This is an incredibly beautiful feather star (a deep sea creature). They are way older than the dinosaurs, according to fossil discoveries. (Photo: Arny Messersmith)

Deep Sea Conservation Coalition Intervention at afternoon Open-ended Working Group

Thank you Mr President.

We want to associate ourselves with the comments made by Costa Rica about externalities, and specifically environmental externalities.

The Briefing Note suggests that the only relevance of environmental matters is to the sustainability and liability funds. This ignores the valuation of ecosystem services including the potential degradation of carbon sequestration services provided by the marine biological pump or adverse impacts on tuna and other fisheries (e.g. in the Clarion Clipperton Zone); and loss of future benefits from marine genetic resources to both present and future generations. Even more important is valuing the damage that will be caused to these ecosystem services, which the science indicates is likely to be significant and, in some cases, irreversible.

Also relevant is the natural capital value. Valuing natural capital enables accounting for nature’s role in the economy and human well-being. Natural capital generates ecosystem services. The studies have made no attempt to value either, and nor is there any scientific rationale behind the quantum of the proposed funds. This work must be done.

Lest there be any confusion, insurance and financial bonds, or as it is called in the Regulations, environmental guarantee, perform a completely different function. Insurance insures against specified unforeseen events, and bonds, called here environmental guarantees, are intended to guarantee contractor performance.

The joint report after discussing land mining regimes states that (and I quote) “A similar regime seems suitable for deep seabed mining in particular considering the many technological and economic uncertainties surrounding these projects today”. (unquote) This turns the precautionary principle on its head. Instead, the technological uncertainties, combined with the scientific uncertainties, mean that the potential damage to the environment must be measured with great care and considerable uncertainty combined with the significant risk means that the mining should not be undertaken. To date, it has not been measured at all. This is not the first time this has been brought to the attention of the Authority.

In conclusion, Mr President, the payment mechanism cannot be finalised until the externalities including damage to natural capital and ecosystem services have been quantified and it has been demonstrated that deep-sea mining would not result in significant damage to biodiversity and ecosystem functioning.

Thank you.

The delicate “Sea Lily,” (actually an animal) is attached to the seabed by a stalk. Fossils show that it may be millions of years old but there are estimated to be some 80 living species. This was discovered at Osprey Reef, off the coast of Australia, at a depth of 800 meters. (Photo: DW/Universität Bremen)

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