The world is arguing over deep-sea mining


Diplomats are today (Monday) meeting at the International Seabed Authority (ISA) in Jamaica, debating how to handle deep-sea mining in international waters. The marathon talks will run for three weeks.

Deep-sea mining is a nascent industry that involves ships hoovering potato-sized ‘nodules’ of metal off the seabed via 4km hoses.

Why are countries debating this industry now?

  • 🏝️ In 2021, the tiny nation of Nauru used an arcane rule to oblige the ISA to finalise deep-sea mining regulations within two years, but
  • ⏲️ That deadline expired yesterday (Sunday) without agreed rules, so the ISA’s 168 members are now debating what to do next.

And it’s unleashed a fair bit of tension. Supporters of deep-sea mining say:

  • ⚡ The sector is essential to supplying the key metals needed for our energy transition, to help address climate change
  • 👷 It’s a way for small nations to generate jobs and income, and
  • 🇨🇳 It can reduce the world’s over-reliance on China’s metals sector.

Opponents of deep-sea mining say:

  • 🐟 It’ll put a vast and little-understood ecosystem at risk
  • ⛏️ There are already enough proven metal deposits on land, and
  • 🔋 The tech sector is phasing out some of these metals anyway.

Intrigue’s take: We don’t envy the delegates tasked with finding a way forward here. The issues are genuinely tricky.

And things are getting heated: Germany has accused the ISA boss of pro-mining bias; others are querying whether a pause (as proposed by Chile) is legal; and there’s talk of referring the whole debate to an international court.

Still, the world has managed to ink treaties for other frontiers, like the 1967 Outer Space Treaty and the 1959 Antarctic Treaty. So, surely we can do it again in the deep blue.

Also worth noting:

  • Mining companies need a country sponsor to apply for ISA permits. Nauru works closely with The Metals Company, a Vancouver-based start-up which aims to start deep-sea mining next year.
  • Various major companies – like Google, BMW, Volvo, and Samsung – have committed not to use deep-sea metals in their products.
  • Norwegian lawmakers moved last month to greenlight deep-sea mining projects in the country’s exclusive economic zone.
Latest Author Articles
The world watches as major US aid package moves to the House for a showdown

After a bruising five months of negotiations, the US Senate passed a $95B aid package for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan just before sunrise on Tuesday (local time), in a 70-29 vote.

14 February, 2024
Israel extends offensive into crowded Rafah city

The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) launched a raid on the Gazan city of Rafah in the early hours of yesterday (Monday) morning, hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed there were four Hamas battalions in the city.

13 February, 2024
How to make sense of Tucker Carlson’s Putin interview

US pundit Tucker Carlson released his highly-anticipated yet controversial interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday night (US time).

12 February, 2024
US strikes hit Iran-linked targets in Syria and Iraq

The US struck various targets across Syria and Iraq on Friday night (local time), in what President Biden described as the beginning of his response to the drone attack that killed three US troops the weekend prior.

5 February, 2024