Finland has taken a step forward during this month’s International Seabed Authority (ISA) Council meetings joining the growing number of countries that are calling for a ban, moratorium or precautionary pause of deep-sea mining. On March 20 Finland’s delegation at the ISA – the international body governing the high seas – called for no exploitation of the seabed to commence before strict environmental standards are in place, and stressed that more scientific research is needed. 

Joel Linnainmäki, Special Adviser to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, later confirmed that Finland supports a precautionary pause, following other EU countries including Germany and Spain, as well as France that calls for an outright ban. Finland’s Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, Maria Ohisalo, also spoke out recently stating that a “good example of ecocide is the effect of seabed mining”. 

Finland’s move is significant considering it is one of the EU countries that has polymetallic nodules in its national waters, particularly in the shallow waters of the gulfs of Finland and Bothnia. Finnish researchers have warned that as with deep-sea mining, shallow-water mining undermines global sustainability goals. Finland had previously shown interest in deep-sea mining in the 1980s as a means to diversify its stakes beyond offshore drilling through a joint Finno-Soviet project to develop a nodule mining system. 

Shifting position in other European countries 

Finland is not the only EU country to have shifted its position during the March ISA Council meeting. Belgium, which is sponsoring an exploration contract for polymetallic nodules in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone by Global Sea Mineral Resources NV (GSR), stated that “there can be no exploitation of the deep seabed without agreeing on a set of rules and regulations that ensure high environmental standards and a sound scientific knowledge, and that avoid any significant harm to ocean biodiversity and marine ecosystems.” The delegation emphasised that “whether we call it a Conditional Moratorium, a Precautionary Pause, a Precautionary Break, a Precautionary Delay, we all want to encompass the same reality. 

Also urging upmost caution, Portugal stressed that “the effects of deep-sea mining on biodiversity must be sufficiently researched, risks must be understood and technology must show that the environment would not be significantly harmed in line with the precautionary principle.” The Swiss delegation indicated that the country is still evaluating its position, but indicated “that exploitation should not take place without the adequate framework to ensure the protection of the marine environment.” 

Intense negotiations ahead 

2023 will be packed with intense negotiations at the ISA aiming to adopt mining regulations as the end of the “two-year rule” period triggered by Nauru approaches. Nauru is the state sponsor for one of the subsidiaries of The Metals Company, a Canadian corporation that intends to have its application for a mining license provisionally approved to immediately start extracting nodules in the Pacific. The two-year rule is intended to force the ISA to fast-track the adoption of regulations for deep-sea mining or, if they are not finalised within two years, mining operations can be allowed to go ahead anyway. 

While the March meeting saw more countries, including Vanuatu, calling for a halt, ISA members failed to agree on how to handle applications for provisional licenses after the two-year deadline expires on 9 July this year, putting the world on the brink of initiating an activity that will cause mass scale irreparable damage. ISA meetings will restart in July, when the two-year loophole expires.