An article published yesterday (19 March) in the New York Times highlights concerns by International Seabed Authority (ISA) State delegates surrounding a lack of impartiality of the ISA’s Secretary General. The article points to the pro-mining agenda of the ISA Secretary General – the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC) calls for urgent reform of the Authority.
The International Seabed Authority (ISA) today concluded the 27th Meeting of the Council amidst mounting international resistance to the controversial emerging deep-sea mining industry.
As the moment of truth draws ever closer, the political momentum against deep-sea mining is gaining ground. In the space of six months alone, 12 States have made bold political decisions that put nature where it should be: front and centre. Over the course of the meeting, France, New Zealand, Germany and Panama joined Palau, Fiji, Samoa, the Federated States of Micronesia, Chile, Costa Rica, Spain and Ecuador in calling to pull back from the brink of a vast new extractive sector on the grounds of the environmental, social and economic risks.
French President Emmanuel Macron called for a ban in an opening address at COP27 and France reaffirmed this position during the ISA meeting this week, warning: “As the effects of climate change become increasingly threatening and the erosion of biodiversity continues to accelerate, today it does not seem reasonable to hastily launch a new project, that of deep seabed mining, the environmental impacts of which are not yet known and may be significant for such ancient ecosystems which have a very delicate equilibrium.”
The DSCC and its member organisations called on countries to prioritise safeguarding the health of the ocean by defending the deep from destructive exploitation.
The DSCC’s Campaign Lead Sofia Tsenikli stated: “World leaders are finally waking up to the imminent risks of deep-sea mining and the need to protect the blue heart of our planet that sustains us all. Rather than being remembered as the generation that delivered the final blow to our planet by unleashing a new industry which could have catastrophic impacts, we urge States to put sustainability and intergenerational equity first. The DSCC welcomes the leadership shown by countries calling for a stop to deep-sea mining and we urge all States to follow before it is too late.”
The Deep Ocean Stewardship Initiative (DOSI), a global network of deep sea scientists, present throughout negotiations, continued to warn delegates that species extinction and damage to fragile deep sea ecosystems would be inevitable and irreversible if the industry were to go ahead. A new scientific report presented during the meeting at a side event hosted by the DSCC and Sustainable Ocean Alliance, also highlights the risks that deep-sea mining poses to critical carbon stores and biodiversity in the deep sea.
The ISA meeting focused on negotiating a ‘mining code’ that, if adopted, would allow countries to apply for mining contracts as early as July 2023, due to the triggering of a loophole referred to as the “two-year rule”. Despite a number of States backing variously a precautionary pause, moratorium or ban, there is still a very real possibility that this destructive industry could commence next year as countries such as the UK and Norway are pushing for adoption of regulations by July 2023.
On the penultimate day of Council, serious concerns were raised about the ability of the Authority to act as an effective regulator for an industry that could open the largest mining operation ever seen in human history. Almost unanimous concern was raised across Council on repeated violations that have already taken place by would-be miners during the exploration phase of deep-sea mining. Numerous delegations also raised concerns over the Authority’s recent approval of test-mining, which was granted behind closed doors, without any consultation with stakeholders or ISA member countries.
The DSCC’s Legal Advisor, Duncan Currie stated that “It is clear that as it stands the Authority is not fit to act as an effective regulator of a new, destructive industry that threatens to incur enormous damage on deep-sea habitats and ecosystems.” Currie added: “Rather than catalyse the rush to mine the deep, the ISA should focus on promoting deep-sea scientific research, to advance the protection of critical and fragile deep-sea habitats.”
Emma Wilson, the DSCC Policy Officer stated: “Rather than opening up a new frontier of industrial mining and extending the footprint of terrestrial mining into the depths of our ocean, we should be moving towards more environmentally and socially responsible models of production, consumption and reuse.” Wilson added “World leaders have a unique opportunity to take concrete action to protect one of our planet’s last wilderness areas from irreversible destruction – the only way forward is a moratorium on deep-sea mining.”
The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC) today welcomed the announcement by French President Emmanuel Macron that France is calling for a ban on deep-sea mining.
In his opening speech at COP27, President Macron stated that “La France demande l’interdiction de toute exploitation des grands fonds marins, j’assume cette position et je la porterai dans les enceintes internationales” – France is calling for a ban on all exploitation of the deep seabed – a position which I will relay in international fora.
Ecologistas en Acción- Madrid/Kingston, 2 de noviembre de 2022
Alemania, Costa Rica y Panamá se han sumado al llamamiento español durante la reunión de la Autoridad Internacional de los Fondos Marinos que empezó este lunes
Esta semana se ha inaugurado en Kingston, Jamaica, la reunión del Consejo de la Autoridad Internacional de los Fondos Marinos (ISA), organismo intergubernamental responsable por la regulación de los fondos marinos en aguas internacionales. La reunión internacional se produce en un momento crítico, en el que varios Estados pretenden forzar que se autorice el inicio de la explotación en 2023.
As final preparations for the landmark UN climate and biodiversity conferences get underway, the International Seabed Authority (ISA), based in Kingston, Jamaica, pushes to develop regulations that if adopted, would see our planet’s largest carbon store opened to the biggest mining operation in human history.
Just days before the International Seabed Authority meets in Jamaica, seeking to continue the rush to mine the deep, New Zealand joins the growing wave of concern, declaring its support for a moratorium on the risky industry.
The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC) welcomed the news from New Zealand, with Phil McCabe, Pacific Lead for the Coalition commenting: “We applaud Aotearoa New Zealand for taking a position that reflects the values of New Zealanders and ocean people everywhere. This call echoes our domestic experience as well, where seabed mining has been shown to be environmentally, socially and legally unacceptable. New Zealand now joins others taking a leadership role internationally to defend our shared ocean from destructive deep-sea mining.”
Next week, the International Seabed Authority’s member States will meet in Kingston, Jamaica for two weeks, to negotiate deep-sea mining rules and regulations that, if agreed and adopted, could see commercial extraction begin in the deep sea as soon as 2023.
In the statement released this morning, New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nanaia Mahuta highlighted that the Clarion Clipperton Zone, the area targeted for the first commercial deep-sea mining in international waters, contains “some of the least understood ecosystems on the planet, and our scientific knowledge of it remains extremely limited.” Nanaia Mahuta also warned that “deep-sea mining could cause irreversible changes to this environment and have a significant impact on its biodiversity.” The Minister of Foreign Affairs also underscored the need to ensure the effective protection of the marine environment, calling for increased knowledge about the deep seabed, and the impacts of deep-sea mining.
The DSCC, which represents more than 100 non-government organizations, will be present in Jamaica throughout negotiations, calling for a moratorium on the industry.
New Zealand’s call for a moratorium on deep-sea mining sends a clear message – States must regain control of the process at the ISA or see deep-sea mining fast-tracked and the ocean wrecked. It’s time now for all States to join the path set by Pacific countries including Palau, Fiji, the Federated States of Micronesia, Samoa and now New Zealand, and press pause on deep-sea mining.Sofia Tsenikli, DSCC Campaign Lead
The emerging industry is facing a surge in backlash from a broad spectrum of society, including governments, almost 250 parliamentarians from more than 50 countries, scientists, businesses, civil society organizations and communities across the world. More than 600 science and policy experts have called for a pause on the nascent industry, warning that the proposed strip-mining of vast areas of seabed risks disturbing carbon storage in the deep, and would result in a loss of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning that would be irreversible on multi-generational timescales.
If deep-sea mining in international waters were to begin, there would be no going back. New Zealand needs to take forward this leadership and ambition to the upcoming ISA meeting and beyond, to rally further political support to stop deep-sea mining before it starts.Duncan Currie, DSCC Legal Advisor
Notes to editors
New Zealand’s position specifically refers to deep-sea mining in international waters, under the control of the International Seabed Authority.
Over the last decade the New Zealand government has faced three legal tests for seabed mining in its national waters under the Exclusive Economic Zone & Extended Continental Shelf Act (EEZ & ECS Act). The first two tests were rejected outright by the government regulator, the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) and the third was roundly rejected through a succession of courts all the way to the Supreme Court. New Zealand’s seabed mining applications in national waters drew opposition from a broad spectrum of society including, Iwi, coastal communities, environmental groups, ocean user groups and fishing interests.
The DSCC will be calling for a moratorium throughout the upcoming ISA Council Meeting in Jamaica and at the UNFCCC COP27 in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is in Antarctica this week celebrating advancements in scientific knowledge and affirming New Zealand’s commitment to the protection of Antarctica as “a natural reserve for peace, science and cooperation.”
Antarctica was saved from mineral extraction at the 11th hour by the Madrid Protocol, effectively banning mineral extraction on the continent 30 years ago on the eve of its opening to mining
Negotiations to open the ocean to the largest mining operation in human history come to a close as resistance from country delegations, scientists and NGOs escalates. The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition have been present throughout negotiations and call for ISA member States to urgently turn words into action and call on the Authority for a stop to the destructive industry before it starts.
Over the past three weeks negotiations have taken place in a hotel in Kingston, Jamaica to agree a Mining Code which if adopted, would see the Earth’s largest remaining wilderness area opened to large-scale commercial deep-sea mining as soon as next July. Observers including NGOs and scientists have been relegated to a windowless basement room for the duration of the meetings.
The International Seabed Authority (ISA) continued to push ahead with developing regulations for the nascent industry. At the same time, an increasing number of countries emphasised the obligation of the ISA under international law to ensure the effective protection of the international seabed (which accounts for around 50 per cent of the total area of the world’s ocean) from the harmful effects of deep-sea mining activities.
As country delegations took the floor, it became quickly apparent that the tide has begun to turn on the controversial industry in the face of growing awareness of the irreversible and large-scale damage deep-sea mining would have for people and planet, if authorised to go ahead. Numerous countries including Costa Rica, Chile, Spain, Ecuador and Micronesia called for the ISA to hit the brakes on deep-sea mining, highlighting concerns that the world is not in a position to move forward with the emerging industry in the absence of the necessary independent scientific information.
Micronesia also raised the prospect of a moratorium on deep-sea mining for the first time during negotiations, stating that they had joined the Alliance of Countries Calling for a Deep-Sea Mining Moratorium launched by Palau at the UN Ocean Conference. Delegations including New Zealand, Brazil, Singapore and Italy also stated that environmental protection must be guaranteed before deep-sea mining could move forward and numerous States and observers clearly indicated that many of the issues under negotiation at the ISA are far from being resolved. Indeed, Tonga, a sponsoring state of would-be miners, Tonga Offshore Mining Limited owned by The Metals Company, commented that they were concerned by the apparent lack of progress to develop regulations.
Australia, the UK and Nauru, the latter two countries also sponsoring states, reiterated their call to progressing regulations and France stated their determination to adopt “a legal framework with rigorous environmental protections to ensure that harm to ecosystems in the marine environment is minimised.” Conversely, during the UN Oceans Conference at the end of June, President Emmanuel Macron called for a legal framework to stop mining on the high seas.
The clock is ticking on deep-sea mining, due to the triggering of an obscure legal provision known as the 2 year rule by Nauru on behalf of the mining company it sponsors, NORI, also owned by The Metals Company. However, calls grew from observers and numerous States that this timeline may not necessarily lead to mining. Costa Rica consistently highlighted that the rule was triggered during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and Chile called for a full discussion on whether the 2-year timeline was indeed meaningful. The debate however was postponed by the President of the ISA Assembly, squeezing it under what was essentially ‘AOB’.
Concerns mounted throughout the meetings that the ISA is not transparent, fit for purpose, nor acting on behalf of humankind. Tight restrictions on access were imposed on scientists, NGOs, country delegations and media by the ISA secretariat and some journalists were denied access entirely. On the first day of the meeting, the Secretariat turned off the live web stream, cutting off access to the negotiations to stakeholders including state delegations, many observers and media alike that were unable to attend the meeting. The move prompted significant backlash and eventually led to the live broadcast being switched back on. The Authority’s Secretary General, Michael Lodge also faced demands from Chile for United Nations level independent financial audits and complaints from Costa Rica of failing to show necessary impartiality.
During the ISA’s Assembly crucial debate on the 2 year rule, NGOs and scientists were cut off after 3 minutes, with no prior warning. Far from having time limitations, the meeting finished a day and a half early.
“Rather than acting on behalf of all of humankind, the ISA continues to demonstrate a deep-rooted industry driven agenda. Silencing voices that question the path to extraction, including NGOs and scientists, during negotiations illustrates the Authority’s clear and inherent conflict of interest.”
Emma Wilson, representing OceanCare throughout negotiations
In recent months, deep-sea mining has become a flagship issue for ocean health with governments, Parliamentarians, scientists, civil society, companies, fisheries associations and huge swathes of the public all calling for an urgent stop to the destructive industry. The DSCC continues to urge ISA member States to call on the Authority for a stop to the destructive industry and to prioritise planetary health for present and future generations.
“A growing number of countries are beginning to challenge the arcane rules under which the ISA operates, and reject assertions that the world needs to mine the deep-sea to build batteries for electric vehicles. What is needed is more responsible land-based mining practices, investment in circular economy initiatives, and to make much better use of the metals and materials we already have in circulation rather than opening a whole new frontier of the planet to destructive industrial resource extraction”.
Matthew Gianni, representing Earthworks at negotiations
“ISA member States are waking up to the critical need to defend the deep in the face of what would be an environmental catastrophe, the likes of which we have never seen. It’s time for States to go further and join the alliance of countries calling for a moratorium on deep-sea mining, launched by Palau.”
This week, deep-sea mining negotiations in Jamaica enter their third week as backlash surrounding the nascent industry grows. Concerns surrounding transparency and the environmental impacts of the industry remained firmly at the top of the agenda for observers and many States present at International Seabed Authority (ISA) meetings last week. Meanwhile, global support for a halt skyrocketed as a new letter calling for a moratorium was launched, with more than 68,000 people calling on leaders to stop the industry before it begins.
The ISA’s 168-member Assembly begins a week-long meeting today. The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition has been present throughout deep-sea mining negotiations in Kingston and continues to advocate for a moratorium on the risky industry.
Negotiations have begun to develop a mining code that, if adopted, could see the largest extractive operation in human history begin in the deep sea. But as negotiations get underway, the chorus of concern surrounding the emerging industry has amplified.