IUCN Director General’s open letter to ISA Members on deep-sea mining
Dear Members of the International Seabed Authority,
In September 2021 at the IUCN World Conservation Congress, IUCN Member States, civil society and Indigenous organisations overwhelmingly voted in support of a moratorium on deep seabed mining to protect life in the ocean.
The IUCN Congress is the world’s largest and most inclusive environmental decision-making forum. Now, with the first deep-sea mining operations looming, IUCN urges ISA Members to uphold the global moratorium in line with this democratic decision taken by IUCN Members, which together represent over 160 countries.
At the 2021 IUCN Congress in Marseille, IUCN Members voted to adopt Resolution 122 calling for a moratorium on deep-sea mining unless and until:
- the risks of mining are comprehensively understood and effective protection can be ensured;
- rigorous and transparent impact assessments are conducted based on comprehensive baseline studies;
- the Precautionary Principle and the ‘Polluter Pays Principle’ are implemented;
- policies incorporating circular economy principles to reuse and recycle minerals have been developed and implemented;
- mechanisms are in place to consult with the public throughout decision-making;
- the governance of deep-sea mining is transparent, accountable, inclusive, effective and environmentally responsible.
Scientific research strongly indicates that these conditions have not yet been met. For example, a recent study from the mining industry association SystExt concluded that:
- the technical and economic viability of seabed mining remains controversial;
- the risks, known and widely documented, are not acceptable;
- impacts cannot be assessed, managed or compensated;
- regulations are largely insufficient; and
- there is a need for a moratorium on deep-sea mining.
In Resolution 122, IUCN notes that if deep-sea mining is permitted to occur, biodiversity loss in these unique ecosystems will be inevitable, and the consequences for ocean ecosystem function, and for humanity, could be vast.
Subsequently, many voices have joined the call for a ban, pause or moratorium on deep-sea mining. In addition to civil society actions and demonstrations, 12 states have taken positions against such activities in international waters, along with a growing number of companies.
Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), ocean areas beyond national jurisdiction and their mineral resources are common heritage of humankind. However, large strips of the seabed are covered with potentially mineable metals that for years companies have been trying to tap into.
Mining activities in the deep seabed could now be authorised by the International Seabed Authority (ISA) as early as mid-2023. In June 2021, the Government of Nauru notified the ISA of their intention to start deep-sea mining, triggering a rush to finalise the ISA regulations despite the existing knowledge gaps and lack of safeguards.
However, ISA member states still retain the power to delay or postpone the commencement of mining activities, as demonstrated in a recent comprehensive analysis of the issue by a member of IUCN’s World Commission on Environmental Law (WCEL).
As negotiations are due to continue at ISA’s 28th Session of the International Seabed Authority this year, the coming months will be decisive. Nothing currently justifies embarking on deep-sea mining activities, including in international waters. As ISA member states, I urge you to heed the outcome of the vote on Resolution 122 and broader call of the global community, by following the advice from science and upholding the moratorium on deep-sea mining.
Dr Bruno Oberle
 The SystExt association (Extractive Systems and Environments) brings together working professionals with a common interest in extractive systems, in particular mining, and skills to appropriate the technical issues associated with these activities. Initially made up of geological and mining engineers, the association aims to be open to everyone and today has members who also come from other disciplines, in particular environmental science and policy.
 Resistance to deep-sea mining: Governments and Parliamentarians - Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (savethehighseas.org)