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The Leading Proponents of Deep-Sea Mining

Context

The push for deep-sea mining has been the subject of heated discussion in recent years, with supporters praising the potential advantages of the global switch to clean energy and opponents predicting dire environmental repercussions.

Relevance:

GS Paper-3: Conservation, Environmental Pollution, and Degradation, Environmental Impact Assessment

Mains Question

What issues does deep-sea mining raise, and why are some nations and environmental organisations against it? (150 Words)


International Seabed Authority

  • The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which was established in 1982, established the International Seabed Authority (ISA), an intergovernmental organisation with 167 member states and the European Union.
  • The dual objectives of the ISA are to protect the ecosystem of the seabed, ocean floor, and subsoil in “The Area,” which is outside of national jurisdiction, and to authorise and regulate the development of mineral-related operations in the international seabed, which is regarded as the “common heritage of all mankind.”

Concerns and criticism

  • Critics claim that the organization’s dual responsibilities as a guardian of the seabed environment and a regulator of mining are incompatible and that it has been tilting too heavily in favour of corporate interests. Additionally, they accuse it of lacking accountability and transparency, which it disputes.
  • Although ISA members are currently drafting a “mining code” that will permit the start of deep sea mining operations, a gap in its regulations may allow it to begin approving applications as early as July.

The Mining Code

  • The ISA’s “mining code” is the set of guidelines, procedures, and rules that govern the discovery and exploitation of mineral resources on the international seabed outside of the purview of any one nation.
  • The mining code is intended to make sure that the benefits of mining in the international seabed area are distributed fairly among all nations and that these activities are carried out in a sustainable and environmentally responsible manner.

The Metals Company

  • The Metals Company (TMC) is collaborating with the Pacific states of Nauru, Tonga, and Kiribati to explore deep-sea metals.
  • The Canada-based company has downplayed concerns about the environmental impact of seabed mining, claiming that the collection of “loose-lying” polymetallic rock on the ocean floor was far less detrimental to the environment.

Exploration permits:

  • Nauru is anticipated to be the first country to submit an application to the ISA for permission to start mining deep sea.
  • Nauru announced its intention to do so in 2021, opening the door for it to start exploitation activities this year even though the mining code is not yet complete. This is known as the “two-year rule” loophole.
    • Additional sponsors include:
  • The ISA has already granted up to 31 exploration licences, supported by a total of 14 countries.
  • In addition to Nauru, Tonga, and Kiribati, they also include Brazil, Japan, Jamaica, China, Russia, South Korea, India, the United Kingdom, France, and Poland.
    • China: Three companies, including the state-owned conglomerate Minmetals, currently hold exploration licences issued by the ISA. China is a major proponent of deep-sea mining.

Deep-sea mining may pose the following risks:

  • Environmental effects: It has a negative impact on the environment, destroying deep-sea habitats and releasing pollutants into the ocean.
  • Deep-sea ecosystems are among the most diverse and poorly understood ecosystems on the planet, and deep-sea mining may lead to the extinction of certain species and the disruption of crucial ecological processes.
  • Disruption of carbon storage: Mining operations have the potential to interfere with the process of storing carbon in deep-sea sediments, which would increase carbon emissions.
  • Uncertainty regarding the long-term effects: Deep-sea ecosystems are poorly understood, so it is difficult to predict how mining operations will affect them in the long run.
  • Effects on local communities:

o Local communities that depend on the marine environment for their well-being may experience significant effects from deep-sea mining on their cultures and way of life.

  • Economic risks:

o There is no assurance that deep-sea mining will be profitable in the long run. It is an expensive and risky business. Companies may suffer sizable financial losses if they make significant investments in deep-sea mining but the sector does not take off.

The opponents:

  • The Deep-Sea Conservation Coalition, which is made up of more than 100 environmental organisations (including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and the Worldwide Fund for Nature), has also been fighting to stop deep sea mining.
  • As many as 14 countries, including France, Germany, New Zealand, Costa Rica, and Vanuatu, have now called for a moratorium or suspension of all mining activities.

Conclusion:

  • It is difficult, but not impossible, to find a solution that strikes a balance between the potential advantages of deep-sea mining and the need to safeguard marine ecosystems.
  • With a commitment to innovation and responsible management, we can harness the mineral wealth of the deep sea to support the global transition to clean energy while protecting ocean biodiversity.
  • To create transparent, accountable, and environmentally sustainable regulations, all stakeholders, including the ISA, mining companies, sponsoring nations, and opponents of deep-sea mining, must work together.

February 2024
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