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Thirteen questions to ask about Seabed Mining
1. Do we need minerals from the seabed to meet them demand for renewable battery technologies? No. There is more than sufficient material on land for over 200 years and with improvements in recycling and battery technologies, we will need less extraction from mines.
2. Are there human rights and environmental challenges with current mining practices? The current mining challenges should be addressed through better mining strategies, not digging up pristine and undiscovered parts of the planet. There are new discoveries of materials for renewable batteries (such as cobalt) in many other regions of the world that are far safer to extract. KoBold Metals, backed by Bill Gates, and other companies (https://www.koboldmetals.com/) have identified these other sources.
3. Is it true that the deep ocean is just a barren desert? No. The seabed is full of life and is one of the largest carbon sinks on the planet. Churning up the seabed could cause untold harm by its carbon release and by creating deadly plumes that can travel for thousands of miles in slow-moving deep water currents. We are only just discovering species in these environments and do not yet understand the full implications of what commercial-scale seabed mining will do to them.
4. Mining companies claim to be using best practice environmental assessments. Is this true? Name one sector where industry self regulation has succeeded. The mining companies are not using the latest environmental impact tools such as eDNA, which can track the presence of different species' DNA from seawater and seabed sediment, even if invisible to humans. The seabed mining companies are fearful they may find many undiscovered species, and a resulting pushback to killing them, so they are reverting to older techniques for environmental monitoring based on visual observation.
5. Why is there a rush toward seabed mining? Pure greed. There is an ISA election in July 2020 for the new head of the ISA. The current head, British lawyer Michael Lodge, is trying to push this legislation through before his current term ends. There is no economic rationale for starting in 2020.
6. Wouldn't it be prudent to set seabed mining laws after the new environmental laws are passed in 2020? Yes. 2020 is supposed to be the biggest year for the planet, with major international environmental treaties on protecting 30% of our planet for biodiversity on land, biodiversity in the High Seas, and on building resilience against climate change.
7. Is there a precedent for moratoriums among countries when setting international ocean policy? Yes. When pristine environments are untouched by humans, such as areas in the Arctic Ocean or in Antarctica, there is a need to study the impact of human involvement in these pristine environments before any use. For this reason, in 2017, a 16 year moratorium on fishing in the Arctic Ocean was signed by the nine Arctic Council countries that included China, Russia and the US.
8. How many countries actually vote regularly at the ISA meetings that are held twice a year in Jamaica? Given the geograpic location of Jamaica, most poorer nations are unable to send Ambassadors and they are not allowed to vote remotely. Hence, approximately 40 - mainly pro-mining - countries usually control the voting outcomes and this minority is pushing for pro-mining legislation, as they would be the few that could prosper.
9. Have all sovereignty disputes of the ISA been resolved? No. There are several countries in dispute over their maritime territorial boundaries (Extended Continental Shelf) and the ISA is already allocating mining licences in disputed areas, such as with Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. South Korea has been allocated mining licences within Mauritius’ Extended Continental Shelf claimed territory.
10. Why is the ISA allowing industry to determine which vents should be protected, rather than determining this via a strong scientific and environmental body? Humans only discovered life around hydrothermal vents (essentially, underwater volcanoes) in the late 1970s. We still do not fully understand all the complex lifeforms in these environments, yet all the hydrothermal vents along the Atlantic Ocean and Indian Ocean are under consideration for mining.
11. Does the ISA Commercial Mining Code meet international best practices? The World Bank has an EITI (Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative) that calls for payment transparency to ensure no corruption exists in mining. The ISA legislation does not incorporate such EITI standards. This is a big deal in mining.
12. What royalties have been set by the ISA? Royalties are usually set to ensure that some of the profits of mining can return to restore habitat or be shared with other stakeholders. Typically, royalties on land for these sorts of minerals are around 15% of sales. If the ISA's regime is below this level, it is essentially subsidizing seabed mining when compared to mining on land.
13. Have all the mining companies stuck to their obligations under the ISA regulations? No. There are laws governing the amount of exploration a company should do if holding a license. This is very strictly enforced around the world to assess competence. Most of the companies holding these licenses have not met these obligations, yet the ISA continues to hold their exploration contracts as valid.