The tide is rising against deep sea mining

The #BlueMarch in Lisbon was attended by environmentalists and activists opposed to deep sea mining. Twitter Photo from The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition

Global leaders, scientists, environmental advocates, and civil society groups voiced their opposition to deep sea mining during the UN Ocean Conference held from June 27–July 1 in Lisbon, Portugal.

Deep sea mining is the practice of excavating the ocean floor to harvest rare minerals such as manganese, cobalt, copper, and nickel, which are often used for batteries, most notoriously those used in electric vehicles. The International Seabed Authority (ISA), a UN body, is currently drafting regulations that could be used by the mining industry in 2023. So far, the Pacific island nation of Nauru has expressed interest in allowing deep sea mining on its territory.

But Pacific communities are also among the most consistent in strongly opposing deep sea mining by citing the destructive colonial legacy of conducting nuclear tests in the region.

At the UN Ocean Conference, the leaders of Palau and Fiji led the launching of the Alliance of Countries Calling for a Deep-Sea Mining Moratorium. Palau President Surangel Whipps, Jr. said during the event:

We all have to make sacrifices and come together as nations to achieve the greater good for our planet and our people. We know that deep-sea mining compromises the integrity of our ocean habitat that supports marine biodiversity and contributes to mitigating the impacts of climate change.

Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama added:

If allowed to go ahead, mining will irreversibly destroy ancient deep sea habits and impact those who rely on the ocean for their livelihood.

The Fiji government warned that deep sea mining will “further jeopardize” the lives of people “who are already suffering from climate change-induced disasters.”

During a separate event at the conference, French President Emmanuel Macron also stated his opposition to mining the high seas, although France has exploration agreements with ISA. The United States climate envoy called for more studies about the impact of deep sea mining. In a letter submitted to the annual meeting of States Parties to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea in early June, Chile called for a 15-year moratorium on adopting regulations that would allow deep sea mining.

Greenpeace oceans project lead Arlo Hemphill noted the growing opposition against deep sea mining:

The wall of silence is finally being shattered as countries begin to speak out against the destructive deep-sea mining industry, which would put the health of the ocean on which we all depend and the lives and livelihoods of billions of people living in coastal communities at risk.

Meanwhile, 146 parliamentarians signed the Global Parliamentary Declaration Calling for a Moratorium on Deep Seabed Mining. The statement offers an alternative for states which wanted to pursue deep sea mining to extract minerals needed in the transition towards a so-called “green economy”:

Rather than launching a vast new extractive industry, States should be investing in new technologies and systems that reduce the demand for raw minerals through reuse, recycling and innovative design. The green transition must not come at the expense of biodiversity and our planet’s biggest natural carbon sink.

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