In response to recent consultations held by the International Seabed Authority, Seas At Risk makes a compelling plea to consider sustainable alternatives to deep sea mining instead of rushing the development of regulations for commercial mining.

The international Seabed Authority is currently developing a mining code for the exploitation of deep sea minerals, which it aims to finalise in 2020. This comes amid growing warnings from the scientific community and civil society about the risks for irreversible biodiversity loss and other significant harm to deep sea ecosystems.

In its submission to the International Seabed Authority, Seas At Risk calls for enough time for fundamental reflection on the actual need for deep sea mining, its long-term sustainability implications and application of the precautionary principle. The governance flaws within the International Seabed Authority itself, such as its lack of transparency and environmental capacity, must also be tackled without further delay, if the body is to fulfil its mandate to effectively protect the marine environment from harm.  

Seas At Risk calls once again for a much-needed public debate on the question of whether or not deep sea mining is even necessary. Such a debate should fully assess more sustainable alternatives, considering these in an open and transparent manner.

Deep sea mining is like the new fracking, i.e. an unsustainable practice that only serves to lock our economies into overuse of non-renewable resources. It could also have a devastating effect on some of the most crucial life-sustaining and biodiversity-rich ecosystems on our planet. Recently, 15 renowned scientists issued an urgent warning that deep sea mining will lead to irreversible biodiversity loss, as research shows that deep sea mining could affect hundreds of thousands of square kilometres of seabed, releasing highly toxic chemicals and vast sediment plumes.  

There is no evidence that deep sea mining will reduce our dependency on unsustainable forms of land mining, as some proponents claim. Rather, it will merely add another source for mineral supply and thus shift money and attention away from more sustainable alternatives.  

Such alternatives already exist and will become more readily available if the world honours its commitment to Sustainable Development Goal 12 on sustainable consumption and production. Several avenues may be explored to reduce the future demand for minerals, ranging from better product design and recycling, to sharing economies and smarter mobility and energy systems. Most importantly, we need to ensure a transition to an economy that prioritises sufficiency and wellbeing, rather than one which remains stubbornly stuck to an outdated growth paradigm.

The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea calls the deep seabed and its resources ‘the common heritage of mankind’. This imminent threat thus concerns all people of the world, both current and future generations. Right now, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to protect this heritage from irreversible large-scale environmental harm. Given the speed with which deep sea mining technologies are developing – the first commercial mining is expected to start within two to five years – we have only a small window of opportunity to choose a different and better future. 

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