Defend the Deep: Jamaican youth climate activists call on their government to think again on deep sea mining

Young Jamaican climate activists are making their voices heard, loud and clear, in Jamaican media and social media – on deep sea mining. This is a critical time for our oceans, whose fate now hangs in the balance. I noted this back in 2019, when Greenpeace and local environmental activists staged a protest at a meeting of the International Seabed Authority (ISA).

‘No Deep Sea Mining’ Banner on the Greenpeace ship the Esperanza, in Kingston, Jamaica, in 2019.

The ISA is holding Part 2 of its 27th Session from July 18 – 29 in Kingston. The Jamaica Climate Change Youth Council (JCCYC) has concerns, which they have expressed in a letter to Prime Minister Andrew Holness dated July 15, 2022. Please see the full text below. You can follow the Council for updates @OurFootPrintJa on Twitter as well as on Instagram – where they will host a discussion this evening (Saturday, July 16) at 7 p.m. Jamaican time.

By the way, you can follow next week’s ISA negotiations remotely on the following link: https://isa.org.jm/web-tv This also links to lots of background documents, if you want to read more.

You can also get regular updates on the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition’s (DSCC) negotiations tracker: http://www.savethehighseas.org/isa-tracker/

The Jamaica Climate Change Youth Council hosted a very well-attended Twitter Space discussion on July 13 – two hours long.

Here is the Jamaica Climate Change Youth Council’s letter to the Prime Minister, in full:

15th July 2022

The Most Honourable Andrew Michael Holness, ON, PC, Prime Minister of Jamaica, Office of the Prime Minister, 1 Devon Road, Kingston, Jamaica.

Re: Jamaican Youth Concerns About Deep Sea Mining

Dear Most Honourable Prime Minister:

This letter serves to express the concerns of the Jamaica Climate Change Youth Council (JCCYC) as it relates to the involvement of the Jamaican Government in, and stance on, the issues being discussed at the 27th Session of the International Seabed Authority (ISA) in Kingston, being held from March to April and from July to August, 2022. The council also notes the limited capacity made available for participation from independent observers and civil society during the second half of the 27th session.

This summer, delegates from all over the world will continue talks as they move towards the finalisation of regulatory policies for mining activities on the seafloor. Decisions like this, as with all environmental decisions, can have significant impact to myriad facets os society across generations, with delayed impacts across both space and time. We therefore, strongly believe that decisions such as this one are to be critically scrutinised, guided by sound scientific data, and approached with precaution as they are rife with uncertainty. Even more so, such decisions must facilitate the participation of society.

We join the international scientific community in expressing concern on the matter of deep sea mining and the inconclusive impacts it will have on the marine flora and fauna, life on land, and more complex earth system functions such as carbon cycles. We are filled with trepidation as they are, that the governing bodies of our region are moving with too much alacrity with establishing regulations when the environmental impacts of the proposed activities are grossly understudied.

Deep sea mining remains deeply controversial, with the potential to disrupt untouched and unexplored marine environments. The risks are therefore far greater than what is being perceived as the benefits. We risk: 1) disruption of ecosystems that we have little to no knowledge of; 2) disruption of landforms that were formed by extremely slow geological and biological processes over millions of years; 3) disruptions to the livelihoods of marine-dependent societies. The total value that we stand to lose has not been quantified, and this represents an uncomfortable source of uncertainty, especially as we look forward to the uncertain futures with climate change.

It is because of these concerns that we are asking the Government of Jamaica to clarify: 1) what body of knowledge is guiding Jamaica’s support on this activity? 2) Has Jamaica accounted for all the costs associated with embarking on this initiative?

The JCCYC is calling for the Government of Jamaica to reconsider its support for deep sea mining, and to join the calls for a moratorium. As citizens, we cannot imagine what it is like to bear responsibility for an entire country, but when it comes to the climate crisis, every decision is a generational one. There is so much to be learned about the impacts of deep sea mining and how these will couple with climate change and other environmental impacts. While we address the need for energy transitions to lessen fossil fuel dependency, we must be careful that we are not simply swapping one problem for another potentially more devastating one. We implore our government to let the 2022 ISA Conference, being hosted by Jamaica, be remembered for making landmark decisions towards protecting our collective futures.

Respectfully yours, The Jamaica Climate Change Youth Council

Machines carefully designed to rip up and destroy the ocean floor, suck up the wanted minerals and spew out unwanted materials, including living creatures, in plumes of dust and debris – back into the ocean.

Well: Is deep sea mining really worth the risk? Of course not – we already know there is so much to lose. Everything, perhaps. The deep sea, from 200 meters to 11 kilometres below the surface, is critical for all kinds of life on Earth.

If the sea dies, then we humans will die. As the DSCC puts it:

“It helps to make life on Earth possible for all of us – it is a cornerstone of our collective existence.”

Here are a few more reasons why a moratorium on deep sea mining is urgently needed. Many of them are inextricably linked with climate change, the greatest existential challenge of our times:

  • The deep sea is a carbon sink, storing huge amounts of greenhouse gases. It is our “lungs,” producing oxygen for us to breathe;
  • The deep, cold currents help regulate the sea’s temperature (and the seas are already warming);
  • Like our endangered rainforests, the deep sea is an incredible natural resource (much of it unexplored). Did you know that a component for COVID-19 tests was created with an enzyme from those amazing underwater hydrothermal vents?
  • We don’t even know the riches there are in terms of the diversity of life forms – and they are fragile and unexplored. Scientists who are mapping the seafloor are finding new wonders every day;
  • Deep sea mining will cause damage that cannot be “fixed back” (yes, we humans still labor under the illusion that, once we have destroyed a part of our natural environment, we can just fix it.) The Earth is too delicately balanced. The impact would be devastating and irreversible;
  • Even one deep sea mine would cause damage that would literally reverberate across much, much wider areas: underwater dust storms, toxic waste, and terrible sonar repercussions that would be extremely harmful to marine mammals, creatures large and small, and the environments they live in;
  • Serious harm to fisheries may result. This is quite easy to visualise, as the marine environment would be upset. What would happen to our fish?

And there are alternatives. Governments should move (with alacrity) towards developing circular economies. Mining companies claim that minerals such as manganese, cobalt and others are needed for electric car and solar batteries, etc. However, major international companies (including car manufacturers Volkswagen, Volvo, BMW and others) are strongly opposed to deep sea mining and researchers are actively sourcing, developing – and recycling – those same minerals on land. Concerns among would-be investors are growing.

So, breakthroughs in battery technology are already evolving as we speak. The giga-scale Swedish battery manufacturer, Northvolt, for example, has produced the first-ever lithium-ion battery cell with 100% recycled nickel, manganese, and cobalt. It started operations at Europe’s largest electric vehicle battery recycling plant in May this year. We have to aim to “close the loop.”

Graphic from the World Economic Forum.

“When it comes to the climate crisis, every decision is a generational one,” say Jamaican youth activists. As a member of the older generation in Jamaica, I believe our leaders have a duty to listen to the younger ones.

Like them, I am “filled with trepidation” as I contemplate the future of our beloved, exploited, disrespected and abused Mother Earth. I believe the Jamaican Government can do the right thing at the ISA meeting next week in downtown Kingston.


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