ORRAA Policy Brief: Deep Seabed Mining
We know more about the surface of the Moon than we do about the deep seabed.
Knowledge about the quantity of carbon sequestered in the seabed and the marine life that inhabits it is scant. The deep seabed also contains mineral deposits and metals in the form of polymetallic nodules, polymetallic crusts and sulphides. Proponents of deep-seabed mining (DSM) aim to remove these deposits from the seafloor through large-scale industrial mining activity operating at depths ranging from 200 to 6,500 metres. Interest in DSM has grown in recent decades due to a growing understanding of the distribution of seafloor mineral deposits, technological advancements which have made mining the seafloor more feasible, as well as increasing demand for metals.
The risks from the impacts of such large-scale industrial extraction on these fragile habitats and on the biodiversity in the water column above them, are currently unknown.
Why is this important?
The vast majority of deep-sea marine scientists, and a growing list of 21 countries, from Palau to France, are calling for a moratorium on DSM, arguing for a precautionary approach given the scientific unknowns and potential collateral damage from opening the deep seabed to massive industrial extraction.
The scale needed for seabed mining to break-even or potentially deliver a profit, together with potential sequestered carbon release, and the risks compounding the already-existing threats to marine biodiversity from ocean heating, pollution and acidification, are not currently environmentally or economically defensible.
A 2022 report by the UN Environment Programme Finance Initiative states that “in their current form, there is no foreseeable way in which the financing of deep-sea mining activities can be viewed as consistent with the Sustainable Blue Economy Finance Principles”. The report provides a detailed overview of the possibly reputational, regulatory and operational risks associated with DSM and outlines how financial institutions should focus on alternative strategies such as reducing the environmental footprint of terrestrial mining and supporting a transition to a circular economy.
The International Capital Market Association and the International Finance Corporation echoed this in their Blue Bond Guidance, stating that investments in “non-renewable extractive industries (e.g. offshore oil and gas, dredging, and deep-sea mining)… are therefore excluded” from the definition of the sustainable blue economy in supporting the issuance of credible blue bonds.
ORRAA and its members include private finance and insurance partners representing trillions of dollars of assets under management, together with governments, multilateral institutions, and civil society. ORRAA echoes the calls from a growing number of financial institutions, businesses, governments, scientists, and civil society to prevent the start of DSM in ‘the Area’ (the seabed beyond national jurisdictions) and for countries to not allow DSM activity within their own jurisdictional waters.
ORRAA recommends that commercial DSM is paused unless and until its environmental, social and economic risks are fully understood, strong regulatory frameworks are in place to reduce and manage its impacts, and the International Seabed Authority is reformed to be more transparent, accountable, inclusive, and environmentally responsible.
To read the full ORRAA Policy Brief on Deep Seabed Mining, please click here.