More than a glimmer of hope at deep sea mining talks in Jamaica, and perhaps a sea change in the making

As the 27th Conference of Parties (signatory countries) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – COP27 for short – gets under way in Egypt, another important meeting is taking place in downtown Kingston, Jamaica: Part III of the 27th Session of the International Seabed Authority (ISA). The session opened on October 31 and is scheduled to end on Friday, November 11.

There is a strong connection between climate change and deep sea mining; after all, our ocean (at least up until now) is a huge carbon sink, soaking up about one third of our emissions of carbon dioxide, and we have no idea how deep sea mining operations would impact this important ecological service (just one of several other services the ocean gives to mankind). Here’s a really interesting article about the importance of the “twilight zone” between the higher levels of the sea and the deep sea itself. Our oceans are not only beneficial and beautiful in a million different ways, but also largely unexplored.

So, now there has been a new development at COP27, where French President Emmanuel Macron called for an outright ban on deep sea mining, declaring that France “supports a ban on all exploitation of the deep seas and will carry this support to international fora” (my translation). France is the first country to be unequivocal in its opposition to deep sea mining – just as the Canadian company, The Metals Company, is completing tests of its mining equipment in the Pacific Ocean (the Clarion-Clipperton Zone).

French President Emmanuel Macron speaking at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt

So, is the tide turning, so to speak, on deep sea mining? Is there a flicker of sunlight penetrating our beautiful, deep, dark seas? I spoke to Arlo Hemphill, campaigner with Greenpeace USA, who is currently in Kingston. I last spoke to him in March this year. That interview includes a detailed breakdown of the concerns over deep sea mining – and how we have arrived at this anxious moment, as the countdown continues towards the ISA’s goal of putting in place a Mining Code to allow deep sea mining by the end of June/early July, 2023. Please do take a read for some background information.

Happily, there have been quite a few changes in a more positive direction this year.

“We are definitely seeing shifts,” Hemphill told me today. In fact – “a giant shift.” President Macron’s statement on the world stage is the strongest yet. It was preceded by New Zealand’s support for a moratorium (the official phrase is “precautionary pause”) on deep sea mining, announced just before the ISA meeting opened.

Hemphill explained that ISA members are falling into two camps. Some countries are opposed to deep sea mining, at least on this time schedule, and favour a moratorium. These include Costa Rica (which has been very vocal, and adamant); four small island states in the Pacific (Palau, Fiji, Samoa, and the Federated States of Micronesia). Spain and Panama also want a “precautionary pause.”

Then there are countries like Germany, which as Hemphill explained “has an interest” in deep sea mining, but does not want to be pushed along so fast. These countries want more time to consider the implications, even if they are not averse to developing deep sea mining in the long term.

The climate action group Ocean Rebellion stages a protest against the deep-sea mining ship Hidden Gem, in Rotterdam in February. Photograph: Charles M Vella/Sopa/Rex/Shutterstock

These two groups, Hemphill suggests, have coalesced into a convenient “temporary alliance.” For all sorts of reasons, they are either not keen on deep sea mining in the first place, or have their doubts and are asking:“What’s the rush?”

Only the tiny island of Nauru (which started it all) and the United Kingdom want to push merrily ahead. So, it seems, does Norway. Nauru stated:

“Like the UK and others, we remain optimistic that together we can make significant progress between now and July 2023 and feel confident by the end of July session next year, we will be significantly advanced.”

Although not a full ISA member, but with observer status, the United States is asking questions, too (what will be the consequences?) – and of course, everyone listens to the US.

Here are some statements made by several countries at the ISA meeting on November 2 and on November 4, collated by the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition. As you can see, all sorts of “ifs” and “buts” are arising, with many questions and concerns have been popping up. You can keep an eye on what’s happening day to day through the DSCC’s ISA Negotiations Tracker.

Yes, it’s a little confusing – but the movement is definitely there, overall. For the first time, a Canadian NGO is at the meeting (Oceans North). Considering that The Metals Company, which is collaborating with Nauru, is Canadian, what will their government’s stance be, eventually? Stay tuned on that one.
A representative of the Sustainable Ocean Alliance Caribbean coalition (@ecovybz) made a presentation at the ISA meeting today: “We are willing to put protecting nature and the #ocean first. The ocean is worth more than just the value of its finite resources. The long-term benefits of a healthy ocean far outweigh any short-term incentives offered by #DeepSeaMining” (Twitter)

There are a good number of non-governmental organisations in Kingston, this time, in addition to Greenpeace. These include (I have attached their websites and Twitter handles, since you may want to look them up, and follow…)

  • Pew Charitable Trusts: website @pewenvironment
  • Oceans North: website @Oceans_North
  • AIDA (Latin America): website @AIDAorg
  • International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN): website @IUCN
  • Deep Sea Conservation Coalition: website @DeepSeaConserve (Note: if you are on Twitter take a look at their thread on their side event at the ISA Meeting today, which included a young Caribbean representative)
  • OceanCare: website and @OceanCare
  • Deep-Ocean Stewardship Initiative (DOSI): website: For scientists, a (free) subscription to their Round-Up newsletter is a fantastic resource! @DeepStewardship
  • Sustainable Ocean Alliance (last but not least), who are collaborating with our young Caribbean activists: website and here. Hashtag: #DefendTheDeep More about this partnership to follow! Suffice it to say that we are proud of our Jamaican youth voice. @caribbean_soa
  • Greenpeace USA: You may contact Cécile Génot or Tanya Brooks at and if you would like to talk to their campaigners. Or follow Greenpeace International online.

So, what next, and what will be the result of this meeting, if any? Arlo Hemphill pointed out to me that most of this meeting has consisted of delegates going through the rules, one by one, commenting and tweaking, with only one period of general debate. At the end of the week, it seems the feeling from most ISA members will be“we need legal clarity” before any progress is made towards the June 2023 deadline (and perhaps it will be impossible to work it all out by then to their satisfaction, as Costa Rica has emphasised). “We are tasking you with this work,” the member states are saying. It’s unlikely that any kind of vote will be taken (which only happens if there is an urgent push for one, and that happens very rarely). The next meeting will be in the second half of March, 2023.

You can watch this discussion at COP27 online on Wednesday, November 9, co-sponsored by the Deep-Ocean Stewardship Initiative

Meanwhile, that glimmer of light and hope is growing brighter. A shift is happening, as Arlo Hemphill said. There will be further developments, I am sure.

Dare I say, perhaps: a sea change is taking place.

A sea urchin and brittle stars. Image from Ocean Networks Canada and CSSF-ROPOS via the Deep=Ocean Stewardship Initiative.

4 thoughts on “More than a glimmer of hope at deep sea mining talks in Jamaica, and perhaps a sea change in the making

  1. Thoughtful and fact-laden. Yes, we all listen to the US and I’d like to know why they are not more assertive on this one.


    1. Well Franklin, as I pointed out the US does not have voting rights as it is not a full ISA member. I am not sure why not and will have to find out. It has observer status so can only make comments, and it has been making quite a lot of comments expressing concerns and raising issues. For a start, the area where they have been doing testing and where they want to mine is not so far from the west coast of the US…


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