The many precautionary warnings about deep sea mining remain unheeded by the European Commission, which re-affirmed deep sea mining as one of its priority Blue Growth sectors.

In its Report on the Blue Growth Strategy: Towards more sustainable growth and jobs in the blue economy, the Commission takes stock of the actions it undertook since the publication of the Communication on Blue Growth in 2012. This evaluation would have been a good opportunity for the Commission to act on the many sustainability concerns that have been voiced in past years about this sector - by scientists, economists and civil society - and to remove it from its blue growth priority list.

The report states that the ‘EU is among others those providing considerable support to the International Seabed Authority by conducting research and developing of a strategic environmental plan for the Atlantic’. The Commission was however conspicuously absent in the recent international workshop in Berlin where draft environmental regulation was discussed.

In its 2016 Communication on International Ocean Governance, the Commission also committed to ‘produce guidance on the exploration and exploitation of natural resources on the seabed in areas under national jurisdiction, to assist coastal Member States respect their duty under UNCLOS to protect and preserve the marine environment.’ How this links to ongoing development of regulation by the International Seabed Authority developments is as yet unclear.

It remains unclear as well how the Commission reconciles its position on deep sea mining with its commitment to the good environmental status of our sea, the circular economy and the Sustainable Development Goals on oceans and on responsible consumption and production. Its support to the sector is all the more surprising since EU funded research has helped to highlight the huge environmental concerns and uncertainties around this sector, and an earlier DG MARE study showed that also the socio-economic benefits are highly uncertain, as did a recent study by the German Ministry of Economic Affairs.

Overall, it seems that the Commission is mainly trying to accommodate the needs of technology developers, without however having a clear policy view on the matter.

In our leaflet ‘Deep sea mining? Stop and think!’ you can read in more detail why we think deep sea mining has no place in the world’s Agenda 2030 for sustainable development. 

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