Pacific urged global leaders to place a halt on deep-sea mining until there is enough scientific research to understand the impacts of deep-sea mining

Pacific civil society groups and leaders urged global leaders at the United Nations Oceans Conference in Lisbon, Portugal to place a halt on deep-sea mining (DSM) until there is enough scientific research to assess and understand the environmental and social harm that it poses. 

A side event of the conference was hosted by the Government of Tuvalu, Development Alternatives with Women for A New Era (DAWN) and the Pacific Parliamentarians’ Alliance on Deep Sea Mining (PPADSM) to amplify the Pacific’s call for collective stewardship and responsibility in the deep seabed of the high seas area that is considered the common heritage of mankind.

PPADSM chairperson and Vanuatu Opposition Leader Ralph Regenvanu, who was joined by Tuvalu’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Samuelu Laloniu, Marie Toussaint, the Vice-Chair of the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance of the European Parliament, Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, Co-Leader of the Māori Party, Aotearoa/New Zealand, and Guam Senator, Sabina Perez, called on leaders to stop “what could be one of humanity’s final follies,” deep-sea mining.  

“I urge you all to join us today to draw a blue line on deep sea mining,” Regenvanu said. “As we come together in the 2022 UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon, it is with renewed hope and commitment that we, as a global society, can make the important shifts in how we engage with our environment, of which we are part, and particularly with the ocean.”

United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres declared that “we are facing an ocean emergency” and that the “egoism” of some nations was hampering efforts to agree on a long-awaited treaty to protect the world’s oceans.

PPADSM is calling for new scientific research to understand the impacts of deep-sea mining on the world’s largest and most stable carbon and methane sink and to also understand its impact on fisheries and fishing grounds, human rights – in particular, rights of indigenous peoples – and rights of nature.

Pacific island states Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu have already taken measures including a ban or a moratorium on deep sea mining within their national jurisdictions. In March this year, Tuvalu rescinded its deep-sea mining sponsorship application, making it the first International Seabed Authority member state to halt proceeding with an earlier intention to participate in deep-sea mining.

“For Tuvalu, this decision is an expression of our ‘common stewardship responsibility’ in an area considered to be the common heritage of mankind,” Mr Laloniu said. “Our common stewardship responsibility is to ensure stringent environmental protection in light of the potential harm that deep-sea mining could entail on ecosystems, biodiversity, fisheries and worse still, the potential harm on the climatic function that the deep ocean plays, which will be a liability borne by the sponsoring state.  

“As Tuvaluans, we have a deep understanding of what it means to be at the forefront of the climate emergency, one not of our making.  As such our multilateral engagements and positions including on international legal norms are informed and shaped by our shared values and responsibilities as a people, which prioritise the health and well-being of our people, environment and safeguard[ing] our culture in perpetuity in the face of an existential crisis.”

The Alliance has appealed to the Republic of Nauru, the Cook Islands, the Republic of Kiribati, and the Kingdom of Tonga to follow the lead of Tuvalu and to draw back from the brink.

Nauru, sponsor of The Metals Company, triggered an obscure legal provision called the ‘2-year rule’, that would allow the International Seabed Authority (ISA) to begin taking applications for commercial deep-sea mining projects by July 2023 with whatever rules are in place at that time.

Because of weaknesses in the existing regime governing oceans and the need for a reinterpretation of the common heritage of mankind, PPADSM has also called for appropriate reforms to ISA that would strengthen transparency and ensure accountability and due diligence in its operation.

There are three main types of deposits that deep-sea miners target- Polymetallic Nodules, Seabed Massive Sulphides and Cobalt Rich Crusts- which provide metals and rare earth elements.

Senator Perez said the ocean was at risk of being pillaged and despoiled because of the relentless pursuit of profit combined with the expansion of militarism and colonization and the advancement of modern technology. 

“It is evident that deep-sea mining has the potential to become a fierce new form of imperialism that further threatens our political, economic, and spiritual sovereignty and cultural survivorship,” she added.  

Ngarewa-Packer echoed the same sentiments adding that we must always think of how our decisions today would affect future generations.

“The reality is… and we learnt during COVID-19, we learnt in the middle of the pandemic, that no matter how rich, it didn’t matter how powerful you were, we were all taken down to our knees in the same way,” she added.

Dr Mariama Williams, Director of the Institute of Law and Economics in Jamaica and DAWN Senior Associate said at the event that “we have approached some levels of insanity that really seems incredible”.

“There’s really no business case for deep-sea mining other than pure profitability and exploitation.

There’s no economic case for deep-sea mining other than a pure predatory perspective on limitless growth and accumulation. All the actors that are pushing this are not living in the jurisdictions that will be inundated, that will be destroyed and decimated by the actions that they will be perpetuating “And I think that is a moral and a criminal thing that we need to keep in front of us,” Dr Williams said.

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