MAC: Mines and Communities

Greenpeace calls for freeze on deep sea mining

Published by MAC on 2019-07-05
Source: Guardian, Business live, Reuters

Greenpeace has launched a report calling for,  at least, a moratorium on deep sea mining (DSM). The report is timed to coincide witha Greenpeace vessel undertaking scientific work on a section of the seabed ultimately destined to be mined. It is also launched just before the U.N.’s International Seabed Authority's next meeting in Kingston, where rules on expliotation of deep sea mining resources in the high seas will be discussed.

The report is available here -

One of the main proponents of DSM, DeepGreen, led the media 'counter-charge'. In a surreal situation, DeepGreen's CEO Gerard Barron responded to Greenpeace that DSM was necessary for saving the planet. Mr Barron said: "This is about planetary survival. It would be irresponsible to freeze work on a new source of metals that could be, on balance, much better for the planet."  As noted in the May 2019 UN IPBES report, what is truly irresponsible and counter to planetary survival is the continued pursuit of an industrial extraction based economy.

The report also generated coverage on another proposed deepsea miner, UK-based UK Seabed Resources (a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin). There was substantial discussion of whether the financial benefits promised would actually accrue to the UK - see (behind paywall).

Greenpeace calls for freeze on deep sea mining

International Seabed Authority, which has issued 29 exploration leases covering 1-million square kilometres of the international sea floor, takes flak from NGO

Lisa Steyn

3 July 2019

Greenpeace has called for an immediate moratorium on all deep-sea mining for fear of severe and irreversible harm it may do to the oceans.

In its report, In Deep Water, the nongovernmental environmental organisation calls for the reprieve and tighter environmental safeguards against the risks of deep sea mining.

Although the deep sea is not being mined yet, interest in doing so is mounting fast.

Desired resources include cobalt, copper, manganese and lithium for which demand is projected to grow given their key use in the manufacturing of a number of new technologies.

The agency responsible for regulating deep-sea mining — the International Seabed Authority (ISA), which was formed under a UN convention in 1994 — has issued 29 exploration leases covering 1-million square kilometres of the international sea floor.

The leases have been granted to sponsoring states — including China, the UK, South Korea, Russia, Germany and India — that work with corporate contractors, and have now laid claim to vast areas of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans.

"The deep sea is the largest ecosystem on the planet and home to unique creatures that we barely understand. This greedy industry could destroy wonders of the deep ocean before we even have a chance to study them." according to Louisa Casson, of Greenpeace’s Protect the Oceans campaign

No such leases pertain to the SA government or the high seas near SA, but in May the department of international relations & co-operation hosted a workshop on deep sea mining to promote the sustainable development of Africa’s deep seabed resources in support of the continent’s “blue economy”.

Beyond exploration, before any commercial mining can take place the ISA has to produce a mining code to regulate activities. It aims to finalise this by July 2020, but progress has been slow.

Greenpeace has warned that deep-sea mining poses high environmental risks.

“The deep sea is the largest ecosystem on the planet and home to unique creatures that we barely understand,” said Louisa Casson, of Greenpeace’s Protect the Oceans campaign.

“This greedy industry could destroy wonders of the deep ocean before we even have a chance to study them.”

Corporates keen on unlocking the mineral wealth of the oceans have argued that the rare minerals extracted from the seabed and used in green technologies will assist in the transition to a decarbonised economy.

Few major mining companies have interests in deep sea mining. Anglo American divested from Nautilus Minerals’ operation in Papua New Guinea in 2018. Nautilus, a Canadian company, has since filed for bankruptcy protection.

But global resources company Glencore has a 2% stake in DeepGreen, another Canadian company and a vocal proponent of deep sea mining. Meanwhile a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin, the US aerospace and weapons company, has two exploration licences sponsored by the UK.

Governments keen on deep sea mining, such as the EU, have meanwhile emphasised their commitment to “environmentally sound” deep sea mining.

‘Siding with development’

But in its report, Greenpeace cites research findings that managing the risks of commercial deep sea mining is financially and ecologically impossible. The organisation said the status quo of ocean governance has already demonstrated it is incapable of protecting the oceans for future generations.

The report also criticised the ISA for “consistently siding with development of deep sea mining over marine protection” and noted the agency is yet to turn down a licence application, “even to explore places of high ecological significance like the Lost City [a field of hydrothermal vents] near the mid-Atlantic ridge … which meets the criteria for Unesco world heritage status”.

In the report, Greenpeace made two recommendations:

Since the Greenpeace report was embargoed on Tuesday, the ISA said it cannot comment on a document it has not yet seen.

Deep-sea mining to turn oceans into ‘new industrial frontier’

Greenpeace report reveals 29 floor-exploration licences have been granted worldwide

Matthew Taylor Environment correspondent

Guardian -

3 July 2019

The world’s oceans are facing a “new industrial frontier” from a fledgling deep-sea mining industry as companies line up to extract metals and minerals from some of the most important ecosystems on the planet, a report has found.

The study by Greenpeace revealed that although no mining had started on the ocean floor, 29 exploration licences had been issued covering an area five times bigger than the UK. Environmentalists said the proposed mining would threaten not only crucial ecosystems but the global fight against climate breakdown.

Louisa Casson, an ocean campaigner at Greenpeace, said: “The health of our oceans is closely linked to our own survival. Unless we act now to protect them, deep-sea mining could have devastating consequences for marine life and humankind.”

The licences, issued by a United Nations body, the International Seabed Authority, have been granted to a handful of countries that sponsor private companies. They cover vast areas of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans, totalling 1.3m sq km (500,000 sq miles).

If the mining goes ahead, large machines will be lowered on to the seabed to excavate cobalt and other rare metals.

Campaigners said that, as well as destroying little understood regions of the ocean floor, the operations would deepen the climate emergency by disrupting carbon stores in seafloor sediments, reducing the ocean’s ability to store it.

The industry has said deep-sea mining is essential to extract the materials needed for a transition to a green economy by supplying raw materials for key technologies including batteries, computers and phones. Its advocates say deep-sea mining is less harmful to the environment and workers than most existing mineral and mining operations.

However, the report said: “The deep-sea mining industry presents its development as essential for a low-carbon future, yet this claim is not substantiated by actors in the renewable energy, electric vehicle or battery sectors. Such arguments ignore calls for a move from the endless exploitation of resources to a transformational and circular economy.”

The environmentalist Chris Packham, writing in the Guardian, said deep-sea mining posed a serious threat to global oceans.

“We’ve already seen the huge destruction ravaged upon our planet by corporations mining on land. Are we really prepared to give the go-ahead to the mining industry expanding into a new frontier, where it will be even harder for us to scrutinise the damage caused?”

The report called on governments to agree on a strong global ocean treaty in the next 12 months, citing scientists, governments, environmentalists and representatives of the fishing industry, who warned of the threat posed by deep-sea mining to marine life.

The report said the UK government held licences to exploit more of the international seabed than any government apart from China. It accused ministers of positioning the government as a leader on marine protection while simultaneously investing in deep-sea mining.

Casson said: “We need the UK government to show strong global leadership and champion ocean protection. They have backed the call for global action to safeguard our oceans but they are also a leading advocate for deep-sea mining. Such hypocrisy is unacceptable.”

A government spokesperson said: “The UK continues to press for the highest international environmental standards, including on deep sea mineral extraction. We have sponsored two exploration licences, which allows scientific marine research to fully understand the effects of deep sea mining and we will not issue a single exploitation licence without a full assessment of the environmental impact.”

In too deep: why the seabed should be off-limits to mining companies

We still know so little about the wonderful world at the bottom of the oceans. Sending in giant bulldozers is a terrible idea

Chris Packham

3 July 2019

When I was filming Blue Planet Live, I was struck by just how much of the ocean has been altered by humans. From industrial fisheries ensnaring ocean giants in kilometres-long lines, to finding our trash at some of the deepest parts of the ocean: it’s clear that however vast the seas are, we are causing profound harm.

Yet at this point in history, when the oceans are facing more pressures than ever before, a secretive new industry is seeking to move into the deep sea, the largest ecosystem on the planet, to start mining for metals and minerals.

They want to send gigantic bulldozers, decked out with rotating grinders and mammoth drills straight out of Robot Wars, into the deepest parts of the ocean, disturbing the home of unique creatures and churning up vital stores of carbon. This is quite clearly an awful idea.

As someone fascinated by weird and wonderful wildlife, the deep sea is a dream come true. Stoplight loosejaws, bearded sea-devils and vampire squid are just a few of the fantastically named creatures that make the deep ocean their home.

On practically every mission down to the deep, scientists discover new species. We know more about the surface of Mars and the moon than about the bottom of the ocean. Mining the deep sea sounds just as ludicrous as mining the moon.

Far too often, industry has plundered the natural world before science has explored and understood its importance. Parts of the deep sea have already been ravaged by destructive fisheries. These ecosystems stand practically no chance of recovery if mining is allowed to start. Researchers who returned 30 years later to one mining test site on the Pacific sea floor could still see the wounds on the seabed – and warned of irreversible loss of some ecosystem functions. A representative of Lockheed Martin, the weapons giant that secured UK government backing for its exploration contracts in the Pacific, described this scene of longstanding destruction to MPs as a “mixed picture”.

And the damage won’t stay hidden in the depths. Toxic pollution from mining operations could travel hundreds or even thousands of miles, impacting the broader ocean food chain. And by disturbing the natural processes that store carbon in deep-sea sediments, deep-sea mining could even make climate change worse. When a million species are already at risk of extinction and climate change is fundamentally altering our planet – why would we sink to new depths, and make it all worse?

In fact, with little to no public debate, a handful of governments and corporations have been parcelling up over a million square kilometres of the international seabed to explore for mining potential. As a new report by Greenpeace reveals, there’s very little standing between the natural wonders of the deep ocean and the mining machines: the agency responsible for regulating deep-sea mining (the International Seabed Authority) is putting profit over protection and has never turned down a single licence application.

We’ve already seen the huge destruction ravaged upon our planet by corporations mining on land. Are we really prepared to give the go-ahead to the mining industry expanding into a new frontier, where it will be even harder for us to scrutinise the damage caused?

Over the next year, governments are negotiating a Global Ocean Treaty at the United Nations, which could agree the framework to put huge swathes of our oceans off-limits to exploitation, and raise the bar for any industrial activity in the global oceans: putting protection at the heart of how we manage international waters and the life-support system they provide for us all. The oceans and the stunning and downright bizarre creatures that live there have an incredible ability to regenerate – but only if we let them be.

Yet with industries such as deep-sea mining keen to keep their business unrestricted by environmental protections, it will be an uphill battle to secure a strong global agreement. This is a fight for all of us. The global oceans are legally classified as the common heritage of humankind. That means they belong to us all, including future generations.

Oil companies ploughed on to cement themselves in the global political economy despite the risks of climate change. Now the deep-sea mining industry is hoping to establish itself, despite catastrophic risks. Minutes of an industry meeting released to Greenpeace under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that “All agreed that environmental concerns are the biggest blocker to progress.”

Well the game’s up. Sending massive destructive machines into the deep ocean that we know so little about is quite clearly a terrible idea. Let’s stop it in its tracks.

• Chris Packham is a naturalist, author and TV presenter

Greenpeace ship sets sail to highlight risk of mining below the waves


2 July 2019

A Greenpeace ship sets sail on Thursday to study an ecosystem beneath the Atlantic Ocean thought to hold clues to the origins of life to press its case for a ban on deep sea mining, as talks in Jamaica seek to agree rules on deep sea mineral exploitation.

Throughout July, work is under way at the U.N.’s International Seabed Authority (ISA) in Kingston to establish regulation on mining the oceans. So far, regulations have only allowed exploration.

Greenpeace is among the campaigners urging a moratorium at least until the ocean depths are understood.

The group also says the ISA is not the right authority to make the decision. It wants what it calls a global ocean treaty with a holistic view of all the challenges, including fishing and oil drilling, as well as seabed mining.

Gretchen Frueh-Green, a professor at ETH university in Zurich, is on board the Esperanza, which will collect samples from the ecosystem known as the “Lost City”, which she discovered.

A series of ghostly hydrothermal vents thought to harbour clues to the origin of life, it lies in international waters that the ISA governs.

The point, Frueh-Green says, is that science should be allowed to explore first. Exploitation can wait.

“It’s our history, it’s the Earth’s history, and if we perturb it we don’t know how fast it will recover, or what influence the perturbation would have on ocean chemistry,” she said.

The Esperanza, which will take around five days to reach the Lost City once it leaves the Azores on Thursday, is sailing there as part of Greenpeace’s 2019-20 Protect the Oceans campaign.

The group on Wednesday published a report in which it says the ISA “exemplifies the disjointed, pro-exploitation governance status quo that is failing to provide adequate ocean protection”.

It says deep sea mining could cause irreparable damage, including releasing carbon stored in deep sediments that would aggravate global warming.

The ISA had no immediate comment, but has previously said a deep sea mining code could be adopted by July 2020.

Discussions on royalty distribution are likely to complicate this month’s talks.

Among those attending will be Canadian company DeepGreen, in which miner-trader Glencore has a less than 2% stake.

DeepGreen is backed by the governments of Pacific islands Nauru and Kiribati, which would receive royalty payments.

CEO Gerard Barron says his project would only collect nodules from the ocean floor, rather than risk more disruptive seabed mining.

He also says the nickel, cobalt, copper and manganese he seeks are needed for a greener economy and his version of mining is less damaging than some land exploitation.

“This is about planetary survival. It would be irresponsible to freeze work on a new source of metals that could be, on balance, much better for the planet,” he said.

(By Barbara Lewis; Editing by Mark Potter)


U.N. deep sea mining body rejects Greenpeace criticism

Barbara Lewis

5 July 2019

LONDON (Reuters) - The International Seabed Authority (ISA) has rejected criticism from Greenpeace over its handling of ocean mining, fuelling a spat that threatens to overshadow talks this month by the U.N. body towards rules for deep sea mining.

Mining international waters is in the spotlight as companies and countries are looking at minerals concentrated on the ocean floor that can be used in batteries for smart phones and electric vehicles.

Greenpeace, which wants a moratorium at least until the ocean depths are better understood, issued a report this week warning seabed mining risks doing irreversible harm and said the 168-member ISA should not set the rules.

Tensions between campaigners and the ISA coincide with talks throughout July in Jamaica, where the U.N. body is headquartered, ahead of a 2020 goal its member states have set to agree rules on seabed mining. So far only exploration has been allowed.

ISA Secretary General Michael Lodge said the Greenpeace report was wrong “particularly in relation to the existing legal regime set up by international law”.

The ISA says it has the right to set the rules as it is a transparent public forum of consensus-building by the international community and in compliance with international law.

Lodge said Greenpeace’s demands for a “global ocean treaty” rather than the ISA to govern ocean mining did not make sense.

Future Generations

Greenpeace stood by its report on Friday.

“We think that this treaty should establish a body that has oversight of activity affecting biodiversity, and have the mandate to protect it for future generations given none of the bodies set up by UNCLOS thus far has that mandate nor the capability/oversight,” it said in an email to Reuters.

The ISA was established to manage seabed minerals by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), effectively a constitution for the oceans, Lodge said in a telephone interview.

For many years, the debate was academic and mining companies doubted ocean bed mining could be economic. That has changed as some nations and companies see it as an effective way to get polymetallic nodules containing nickel, copper, cobalt and manganese.

Even if the ISA agrees exploitation law, mining would not take place for years given the technical difficulties.

Royalties would be paid to the ISA for distribution, the bulk of which in theory could be to emerging economies.

This month’s talks could debate whether China - which holds four of the 29 ISA exploration contracts granted so far, the most by any country - is an emerging economy.

The ISA is also considering granting another exploration contract to China, Lodge said.

Other nations active in the deep seas include Russia, Britain and Belgium.

The United States is not in the ISA but Britain is and Lockheed Martin’s British unit UK Seabed Resources has two exploration contracts. 



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