Yesterday [9 November], 119 European parliamentarians from 16 European countries called for a halt to Norway’s plans to start deep-sea mining in the Arctic. As the Norwegian Parliament nears a critical decision regarding these plans, European concerns escalate, with a growing number of EU Member States calling for a precautionary pause or moratorium on deep-sea mining. Meanwhile, negotiations at the International Seabed Authority (ISA) – the UN-affiliated body responsible for governing the seabed in the high seas – wrapped up on Wednesday [8 November] in Jamaica, and clearly show significant divisions among states on opening international waters for deep-sea mining with a mining code.  

Growing concern around Norway’s plans 

Nearly 120 cross-party parliamentarians have joined forces to voice their strong opposition to the Norwegian government’s plans for deep-sea mining in the Arctic. In an open letter to Members of the Norwegian Parliament, members of the European Parliament called on their Norwegian counterparts to reject the government’s proposal to open the Arctic to the destructive activity.  

The Norwegian government’s proposal submitted to the Norwegian Parliament – Stortinget this summer has designated a vast 281,200-square-kilometre area of the Norwegian Sea, an area nearly the size of Italy, to deep-sea mining. If Stortinget adopts these plans, exploration licenses could soon be awarded to companies, starting a race for a new extractive industry in an already sensitive marine environment. The plans have raised serious alarms among scientists, activists, and parliamentarians in Norway and worldwide. Moreover, a recent legal report deemed the environmental assessment of the plans widely incomplete. 

The open letter, signed by Members of the European Parliament, as well as national and regional Parliaments, emphasises that the green transition cannot be used to justify harming marine biodiversity and the world’s largest natural carbon sink (the ocean), especially when alternatives already exist.  

Norway’s decision to proceed with deep-sea mining, the letter says, could also set a dangerous precedent in international waters. This move forward, without a comprehensive international legal framework for deep-sea mining, could open doors to similar ventures in other parts of the world, posing a risk to global ocean biodiversity.  

No consensus in international talks 

On the international scene, Council negotiations at the ISA in Jamaica saw significant discussions and debates among member states, NGOs, and industry representatives, some pushing for a fast-tracked adoption of a finalised mining code as early as 2025.  

The United Kingdom used the Council meeting to announce its new support for a moratorium, bringing the total number of countries to 23 calling for a moratorium, precautionary pause, or ban on the industry. While there was no conclusive outcome from these negotiations, the delay in reaching a consensus has some states concerned that deep-sea mining may proceed in the absence of robust regulations.  

The Metals Company’s recent signalling of its plan to submit a mining application in August 2024 and some states choosing profit over planet, highlights the very real risk of deep-sea mining beginning globally. 

ISA negotiations resume in March 2024, and it is more urgent than ever for more states – including Norway – to take the steps needed to protect the ocean before a new precedent paves the way for the large-scale destruction on the ocean floor and the life and biodiversity it harbours.