The Precautionary Principle – 23/3/22

Date: 23 March 2022

As delegates met for the third day of deep-sea mining negotiations at the International Seabed Authority, the spotlight was on environmental protection and the impacts of deep-sea mining on the marine environment if the nascent industry were to go ahead.

The informal working group on the protection and preservation of the marine environment, facilitated by Dr Raijeli Taga of Fiji, saw a joint proposal on Environmental Impact Assessments from New Zealand, Chile and Costa Rica identifying measures to prevent and mitigate the harmful impacts of deep-sea mining were the industry to go ahead.

A number of states emphasised the need to embed a precautionary and also ecosystem approach from a number of States. Costa Rica also highlighted the impacts that would be felt in areas beyond the site directly mined if deep-sea mining were to go ahead, and the need to consider these impacts in any regulations.The Deep Ocean Stewardship Initiative (DOSI) highlighted a lack of scientific information and knowledge gaps. FSM raised the need to integrate traditional knowledge from indigenous communities, which was supported by numerous states and observers. 

A stalked crinoid, likely Proisocrinus ruberrimus.

The DSCC highlighted issues around transparency associated with the emerging murky industry and the proposed regulations, which would essentially mean that the industry would be self-regulated were it to go ahead. We also highlighted that any notion of ecosystem restoration has from scientific research been proven to be meaningless. We pointed out that the environment impact assessment paragraph needed a lot of work and was out of step with the BBNJ (marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction negotiations carried out in NY last week) negotiated text. We called for full stakeholder participation (not just stakeholder engagement, which is too often a code for just informing after the fact). We also called out provisions allowing the contractor to write their and review their  own environmental documents, which is self-regulation not effective regulation, and insisted on there must be be no loss in biodiversity. We said that the the lack of scientific knowledge and other information, according to the precautionary principle means that exploitation of seabed minerals must not proceed, which is why a moratorium is needed. We also called for implementation of the precautionary principle and ecosystem approach. We cannot turn a blind eye to scientific uncertainties – instead we must act to protect the marine environment.

We continue to advocate for a prohibition of destructive deep-sea mining in the face of the scientific evidence available, which continues to warn us of the irreversible damage that the industry would cause if it were permitted to go ahead.

Notable interventions:

  • The Netherlands emphasised their commitment to progressing the development of regulations and standards and guidelines, stating that “exploitation follows exploration”.
  • Italy reiterated the need for a precautionary approach, but called for clarity in terms of its practical implications.
  • France highlighted that the ecosystem approach is “absolutely essential” and a norm in EU policy.
  • FSM called for the integration of traditional and indigenous knowledge into proposed regulations, including scientific knowledge and best environmental practices”. They also highlighted the need for stakeholder participation rather than engagement, with participation implying more active involvement as part of consultations.
  • Russia called to apply the precautionary principle and ecosystem approach to the assessment of harm to the marine environment, requesting the addition of a definition of the precautionary principle.
  • Germany suggested including the polluter pays principle.
  • Mexico highlighted the need to consider impacts of processing in areas beyond the site directly mined, stating that the ocean is dynamic. They also called for the ability to suspend activities in the context of scientific uncertainty.
  • The UK urged that the standards and guidelines and regulations should develop in parallel and called for their rapid development. They also called to include restoration in regulations where applicable.
  • Trinidad and Tobago drew attention to the mandate of the ISA to protect the marine environment from harmful impacts that may arise from activities in the area.
  • Costa Rica – highlighted the temporal nature of environmental impacts associated with deep-sea mining and that we cannot ignore the long term and irreversible harm it would cause. They reiterated that mining should be conducted under a precautionary approach that results in no loss of biodiversity in the area directly mined as well as the wider area affected.
  • Argentina warned that there is no international consensus on the precautionary principle in international law and their preference was for the precautionary approach to be included.
  • Canada called for language on rare and endangered ecosystems.
  • New Zealand endorsed a precautionary approach in the face of inadequate environmental data.
  • Chile highlighted that mining regulations would need to be in sync with other international treaties.
  • New Zealand made a proposal for the environmental impact assessment process which would adopt the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) Guidelines.
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