Last month, a little-known intergovernmental conference organized by the UN failed miserably. He only had one goal, it was the fifth time he had tried and the eighth year of negotiations: they were unable to agree. In a matter of months, dozens of mining companies will begin to extract minerals from the ocean floor and no one will be able to control them.
The deepest regions of the sea are about to change forever and we are running out of time.
“The most controversial mining in the world”. This is what high seas (or deep water) mining is famous for: being something little known, something that is discussed in obscure and unimportant offices; but that will define the near future of two thirds of the world’s oceans. And everyone has interests, goals or convictions in the matter. On the one hand, the mining companies assure that the minerals that we can extract from the seabed are essential to ensure the success of the energy transition. After all, the “decarbonization” of the world implies huge needs for materials with which to make batteries and other devices (such as wind turbines or solar panels).
On the other hand, environmental activists (but also other industries such as fishing) denounce the risks of disturbing fishing grounds, water pollution or destruction of ecosystems that this type of practice entails. Practices that, on the other hand, are very difficult to control. The risks, they assured from this side in The Guardian, are too great to justify new licenses.
Seven years without progress. Deep sea mining has been talked about for a long time. In fact, the International Seabed Authority (ISA) has spent seven years trying to create a treaty that regulates it. Seven years that have been of little use because companies, countries, activists and academics have been unable to reach an agreement. However, on June 25, 2021, a small island in the Pacific changed everything.
That day, a representative of the Republic of Nauru stood in Kingston, Jamaica, to notify the ISA out loud that they had the firm intention of starting to extract minerals from the seabed of the Pacific Ocean as soon as possible. That “when possible” was an understatement.
a ticking time bomb. The Nauru letter activated a “ticking time bomb”. The ISA had two years to “complete the necessary rules, regulations and procedures to facilitate the approval of plans of work for exploitation”; if it did not succeed, Nauru would act on its own and the Canadian miner The Metals Company would begin mining in Clarion-Clipperton, an area of the North Pacific between Hawaii and Mexico known for being rich in all kinds of minerals, would also be the starting signal and dozens of countries would start “making war” on their own.
time is running out. The problem, as ‘Science’ pointed out in an editorial a few days ago, is that the time window is getting narrower. Everyone is aware of the role that high seas ecosystems play in regulating the world’s climate, but they are also aware of the enormous amount of money that is down there waiting for someone to collect it.
In fact, it is the island countries (those most exposed to climate change) that are most in need of these mining licenses: it is the only way to pay for the necessary infrastructure so as not to disappear swallowed by the water. That is the case of Nauru. In other words, we are facing a huge “whiting that bites its own tail” and it does not seem that we are going to have room to solve the problem. We will have, instead, to regret not having done so.
Image | Jeremy Bishop