In the run-up to the upcoming annual session of the International Seabed Authority, Seas At Risk challenges the governments of EU Member States that are actively supporting the development of deep sea mining to stop doing so and instead champion sustainable production and consumption.

deep sea mining vents with ecosystem M

It remains a paradox that the EU and some of its Member States are sponsoring and promoting deep sea mining, while at the same time heralding an era of circular economy. It is time for the EU countries to opt clearly for a sustainable future, and champion sustainable production and consumption instead of deep sea mining.

Even though exploration for deep sea mining is currently focusing on the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian oceans, and not (yet) on European waters, the EU and some of its Member States are playing an important role in boosting the sector. Belgium, France, United Kingdom, Germany are currently sponsoring deep sea mining exploration contracts with the International Seabed Authority, while Poland has applied for a new contract. These countries are thus actively promoting deep sea mining internationally. In addition, Portugal is at the moment considering an application by Nautilus for exploration and exploitation contracts on its continental shelf near the Azores. And yet at the same time, all of these countries are as well working towards a circular economy, in line with the strategy set out by the EU.

The EU itself, which is also member of the International Seabed Authority, recently re-affirmed deep sea mining as one of the priorities of its blue growth strategy. How that can be reconciled with its circular economy ambitions remains a mystery. What makes it even more puzzling is that several EU funded research and studies have concluded that the environmental impacts risk to be significant and irreversible, and also that the socio-economic benefits – if any - are highly uncertain.

Deep-sea mining poses a serious threat to global sustainability, and conflicts with several Sustainable Development Goals (such as the goals on oceans and the one on sustainable consumption and production). The deep sea is a fragile and vulnerable ecosystem, and the environmental impacts of deep sea mining risk to be significant, wide spread and lasting for thousands of years, possibly forever. Biodiversity losses from deep sea mining are unavoidable and possibly irrevocable, as an international team of 15 marine scientists, resource economists and legal scholars recently confirmed in the journal Nature Geoscience. Contrasted to this, the socio- economic benefits (if any) are bound to be short lived.

In the meantime, evidence is mounting that deep sea mining is not at all needed to meet future demand for minerals - it is merely driven by geo-political considerations. A report by the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Sydney ‘Renewable energy and deep sea mining: supply, demand and scenarios’ concluded that a 100% transition towards renewable energy by 2050 can take place without having to source metals from the deep sea for renewable technology.

Sustainable alternatives are indeed available. Reducing the demand for raw materials through better product design, sharing, re-use, repairing and recycling and development of new materials is key to the solution. As are changes in lifestyles. Every year in the EU, 100 million mobile phones go unused, less than 10% are recycled. This represents an enormous quantity of gold and other precious metals gone to waste. These figures indicate the huge potential of policies to increase resource efficiency world-wide.

In the annual session of the International Seabed Authority (begin August) its members will discuss much needed reforms of the (which scores appallingly low on transparency and environmental expertise), as well as on the procedure for developing environmental regulation for exploitation. It is vital that the EU Member States defend a strong precautionary approach during this meeting and put the protection of the deep sea first and foremost. In the run-up to the meeting, Seas At Risk is challenging the governments of the above mentioned EU countries to make the right choice, i.e. to champion sustainable consumption and production instead of deep sea mining. Our letters to the European Commission and to governments can be found below.

Letter to Commissioner Vella (by Seas At Risk)

Letters to the governments of:

-      Belgium (by Seas At Risk, Bond Beter Leefmilieu and Natuurpunt)

-      France (by Seas At Risk and BLOOM)

-      United Kingdom (by Seas At Risk, the Marine Conservation Society, the Environmental Investigation Agency)

-      Poland (by Seas At Risk and the MARE Foundation)

-      Germany (by Seas At Risk)

-      Portugal (by Seas At Risk, Liga para a Protecção da Natureza, Geota, Quercus and Sciena

Annex to letters: 

Statement for the Ocean conference, United Nations: Deep-sea mining has no place in a future shaped by the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development.