The German government has appealed to the International Seabed Authority to put deep-sea mining activities on hold while an assessment of regulations and potential environmental damage is conducted. The announcement comes after the climate activist group Ocean Rebellion staged a protest against the Hidden Gem drill ship in Rotterdam in February 2022.
Spain and New Zealand have previously made similar appeals, but the hesitation of the world’s fourth largest economy, which holds two of 31 existing seabed exploration licences, is a major development. According to scientists, the ecosystem damage resulting from seabed cobalt and nickel mining would be “dangerous” and “irreversible”.
Seabed mining is an emerging industry with no existing commercial developments, which is why governments now see a window of opportunity to ensure that regulations with strict environmental standards are put in place. German car manufacturers BMW and Volkswagen have pledged not to buy metals mined from the seabed, and French president Emmanuel Macron called for laws to stop deep-sea mining in June this year. Commercial seabed mining could get underway as soon as July 2023, even if no environmental or economic regulations are agreed.
The International Seabed Authority is the UN-affiliated agency in charge of deep-sea mining regulations, and is headquartered in Kingston, Jamaica, where negotiations on mining relations were held at the beginning of November.
“Deep-sea mining would put even more pressure on the oceans and irreparably destroy ecosystems,” said German environmental minister Steffi Lemke.
“That is why, as a first step, we are calling for a pause to prevent any rash decisions at the expense of the marine environment. Together with our international partners, we now have the opportunity to avert another looming environmental crisis and prioritise nature conservation and its exploration. Only a healthy ocean will help us fight the biodiversity and climate crisis.”
According to Till Seidensticker, a marine expert from Greenpeace Germany, the country’s intervention offers a “good first step” towards protecting the deep sea.
Why it matters
The environmental agenda is high on the priority list of governments and international organisations, with the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP27, currently underway in Egypt. With the advent of the energy transition and the switch to sustainable production, the exploitation of a new resource whose potential for environmental damage remains unknown poses a significant risk.