A UN-affiliated organization meets this week to negotiate regulations that could allow seabed mining to begin as soon as 2024, despite warnings from scientists about a potential environmental catastrophe.
As battery makers scramble to procure cobalt, nickel and other metals to meet rising consumer demand for electric cars, governmental opposition to strip-mining the seabed for minerals is mounting.
The deep ocean contains the largest estimated deposits of minerals on the planet, potentially worth trillions of dollars. But in recent weeks, Chile, Fiji, Palau and other nations have called for a moratorium on ocean mining until there is a better understanding of the environmental consequences of destroying little-explored and unique deep-sea ecosystems that play an undetermined role in the global climate. French President Emmanuel Macron, meanwhile, expressed his opposition to seabed mining in June at the United Nations Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Portugal.
UN members states must “create the legal framework to stop high sea mining and to not allow new activities putting in danger these ecosystems,” Macron said on the sidelines of the conference on June 30.
The pronouncements are striking, observers say, because those nations are members of the International Seabed Authority, the UN-affiliated organization created to regulate deep-sea mining. Three of the countries — Chile, Fiji and France — sit on the ISA Council, the organization’s 36-nation policymaking body that is meeting for the next two weeks in Kingston, Jamaica, to negotiate regulations that could allow mining to begin as soon as 2024.
Matthew Gianni, a longtime ISA observer and a founder of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, said in an email that he expects other nations to join the call for a moratorium. “Countries are finally recognizing the concerns expressed by scientists regarding the likely damage to the environment, fisheries, migratory species, biodiversity and ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration if deep-sea mining is permitted to go forward,” said Gianni, whose Amsterdam-based alliance represents more than 100 environmental groups and other non-governmental organizations.