As International Seabed Authority meeting winds up, more countries seek a pause on deep sea mining

The past week has been quite intense, with the critical and long-anticipated COP27 opening in Egypt and the equally crucial International Seabed Authority (ISA) Council Meeting in Kingston, Jamaica wrapping up.

It’s difficult to assimilate and sort out all the different threads, but there are some positives, at least regarding the latter meeting. Some brave and resolute activists were out on the Kingston waterfront with their banners and placards on Thursday, with the police moving them around and telling them what they could and couldn’t do. Greenpeace USA was among a number of non-governmental organisations attending the ISA meeting. Here is their concluding press release below. Earlier this week, I interviewed their campaigner on deep sea mining, Arlo Hemphill.

On all these matters that are so critical for our Planet and for humanity, let’s continue to keep fingers crossed… The fate of our “last great wilderness” is at stake. You can find more media reports here.

Our impact on the deep sea, spelled out in this graphic from Ramirez-Llodra et al. 2011. PLoS ONE.

By the way, I would recommend the website of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC), which has been closely following developments at the ISA through its Deep Sea Mining Negotiations Tracker. As they also note in their final press release, more countries are coming on board and making “bold political decisions that put nature where it should be: front and centre.”

If you comb through the country positions, while some are making forthright statements – led by France, which is advocating for a complete ban, strongly supported by Costa Rica, Chile, Panama, and others – many have made more broad comments, citing the need for tight and well-considered regulations if mining is to take place. Many others have a range of concerns, including over contractors apparently flouting the rules and the need for greater transparency. Countries like Norway, Nauru and the United Kingdom still appear keen to redouble efforts to complete the process of rule-making and then to forge ahead with deep-sea mining. These countries are now, it seems, in the minority. Those countries who are wavering and leaning towards a “precautionary pause” are growing in numbers.

If you want to dig into the science of it all, you also cannot go wrong by looking at the Deep-Ocean Stewardship Initiative (DOSI) website, which is rich in information and what we know so far about the deep seas. DOSI is “a global union of experts from across disciplines and sectors who pool research, skills and expertise to inform and advise on sustainable deep-ocean governance and management of resources, working to safeguard the marine environment for current and future generations.”

Jamaican campaigners sending a message on the Kingston waterfront. (Photo: Greenpeace USA)

Greenpeace Urges Governments to Take Action to Stop the Launch of Deep Sea Mining

Washington, DC (November 10, 2022) – The number of governments opposing deep sea mining has multiplied in the past two weeks, with Pacific, Latin American and European states calling for a precautionary pause, moratorium or a complete ban on deep sea mining during a meeting that concluded today/yesterday at the International Seabed Authority (ISA) in Kingston, Jamaica. The global Greenpeace network has urged states opposed to the start of deep sea mining to work together in the coming months and find legal ways to ensure that this destructive industry is not allowed to start. 

Among the ISA Council’s 36 member states, France has called for a ban, while Germany, Spain, Costa Rica, New Zealand, Chile, Panama, Fiji and the Federated States of Micronesia have demanded a “precautionary pause” or a moratorium. France and Germany both sponsor mineral exploration contracts in the deep sea, making their new statements particularly significant. 

Arlo Hemphill, Greenpeace USA campaigner on deep sea mining who attended the meetings, said:

“We are seeing a shift in the way the world views deep sea mining. Countries are increasingly acknowledging the importance of the critical services the oceans provide to humankind and our responsibility to protect it for the benefit of all. It is encouraging to see that more states are refusing to be a part of the ill conceived rush to mine the deep sea. But these fragile ocean ecosystems are not yet off limits to exploitation. We call on the Governments that have voiced their opposition to deep sea mining to move with urgency over the next few months to turn their words into actions to stop deep sea mining.” 

Negotiations over whether to allow the industry to start deep sea mining as early as July 2023, will continue in March and July next year. Scientists have warned that deep sea mining may lead to irreversible biodiversity loss, disturbance of one of the world’s largest carbon sinks, and damage to fragile ocean ecosystems, which provides benefits such as medicines and fisheries.

It’s not worth the risk! Campaigners on Kingston waterfront. (Photo: Greenpeace USA)

Joey Tau, from the Pacific Network on Globalization, said:

Pacific NGO groups have been calling for a global ban on deep sea mining since 2012, and we welcome the recent calls by ISA member States calling for precautionary pause, moratorium and ban. We must move beyond the often narrow interpretation of stewardship of earth’s resources that has tended to focus on economic driven imperatives. As we face multiple crises of biodiversity loss and climate change, we must instead prioritize the health and wellbeing of our ocean and the life sustaining services it provides us –  not just for today, but for future generations. We hope that the global community will share in our vision of common stewardship and responsibility for our oceans and support the growing calls for a stop to the launch of commercial deep-sea mining.” 

The urgency to find legal ways to stop deep sea mining remains, as The Metals Company (TMC,) a leading proponent of deep sea mining, is currently concluding mining tests in the Pacific and intends to apply for a license to start commercial mining in 2023. The ISA has continued to attract criticism for its lack of transparency after it fast-tracked the greenlighting of TMC’s trial, under a non-transparent process that has been questioned by scientists [1].

At the just concluded meeting, a growing number of countries stated that they are against authorizing TMC’s mining operations in the absence of regulations, refusing the pressure imposed by the 2-year loophole triggered by Nauru last year. 

Getting some attention outside the Jamaica Conference Centre in downtown Kingston. (Photo: Greenpeace)

James Hita, Greenpeace Aotearoa seabed mining campaigner, said:

“As The Metals Company is out in the Pacific with plundering machines and mining vessels, a growing number of governments are acknowledging the threat of deep sea mining and choosing the protection of biodiversity, carbon sinks and Pacific people’s way of life over deep sea mining. The New Zealand Government’s recent support for a conditional moratorium backed by robust science is a welcome development that we hope other countries will emulate in the next few months.”

Civil society in Jamaica once again showed its opposition to deep sea mining with a protest by the Jamaican Climate Change Youth Council right outside the ISA on Thursday, November 10. 

Political concern over deep sea mining follows public support for a moratorium by leading technology and EV companies Rivian, Renault, BMW, Volkswagen, Volvo Group, Scandia, Google, and Samsung SDI, raising the question of whether a market for these minerals will exist at all. The United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative has urged investors to avoid the industry.


[1] In a letter addressed to the ISA Legal and Technical Commission, the ISA Secretariat and the permanent mission of Nauru to the UN, the Deep-Ocean Stewardship Initiative (DOSI), a global network of experts, expressed its concerns over the ISA’s Legal and Technical Commission recommendation on the Environmental Impact Statement submitted by Nauru Ocean Resources Inc.(NORI),a subsidiary of TMC, to conduct mining tests in the Pacific Ocean. 

A strong message on Kingston’s waterfront. (Photo: Greenpeace USA)

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