As reported by the Associated Press, the International Seabed Authority — the United Nations body that regulates the world’s ocean floor — is preparing to resume negotiations that could open the international seabed for mining, including for materials critical for the green energy transition.
Years-long negotiations are reaching a critical point where the authority will soon need to begin accepting mining permit applications, adding to worries over the potential impacts on sparsely researched marine ecosystems and habitats of the deep sea.
The list of countries calling for a pause on deep-sea mining continued to grow this week ahead of a key moment that mining companies hope will launch the fledgling industry and its opponents hope could clip its wings, perhaps for good.
Ireland and Sweden became the latest developed economies to join critics, including scientists, environmental organizations and multinationals such as BMW, Volvo and Samsung. The carmakers have committed not to use minerals mined from the seabed in their electric vehicles.
No deep-sea mining contracts have yet been authorized, but efforts by the industry and some states, including Norway, have accelerated the race to mine for metals in the planet’s last unexplored frontier.
According to an article in the Guardian, it is a critical time. With a deadline due to expire on Sunday, commercial applications for deep-sea mining could be given the green light despite the absence of any regulations. From Monday, the International Seabed Authority will meet in Kingston, Jamaica, until 28 July to resume negotiations.
Much is at stake. Scientists have warned of large-scale, severe, and irreversible harm to global ocean ecosystems, already threatened by the climate and biodiversity crises if deep-sea mining goes ahead. Too little is known about the ocean’s abyss even to draw up regulations, they say.
Last month, the European Academies Science Advisory Council warned of the “dire consequences” for marine ecosystems and against the “misleading narrative” that deep-sea mining is necessary for metals required to meet the transition to a low-carbon economy.
Mining below 200 meters (650ft) can lead to harmful noise, vibration, and light pollution. There is also the risk of leaks and spills of fuels and other chemicals used in the mining process.