By Todd Woody (Bloomberg) —
A growing number of countries are calling for postponement of plans to open-pit mine the seabed for metals to make electric car batteries as US defense giant Lockheed Martin Corp., the largest deep-sea mining company, exits the burgeoning industry.
The sale of Lockheed’s UK subsidiary Seabed Resources to Norwegian startup Loke Marine Minerals was announced last week as the United Nations-affiliated body that regulates deep-sea mining opened a conference in Jamaica. The International Seabed Authority(ISA) is meeting to meet a July deadline to approve regulations that would allow for the mining of unique deep-sea ecosystems as early as 2024. Tensions at the conference rise as scientists, lawyers and activists burden the agency’s administrative arm, known as the Secretariat, with pushing a pro-mining agenda. Last week, some of the ISA’s 167 member states accused ISA Secretary General Michael Lodge of overstepping his role as a neutral administrator.
As the conference began, the UK delegate also revealed Lockheed’s effective exit from the industry with the sale of UK Seabed Resources for an undisclosed price. “After a detailed analysis of the deal, it was clear there was a better owner for our UK Seabed Resources (UKSR) business,” a Lockheed Martin spokesman said in an email.
Lockheed’s interest in deep-sea mining dates back to the 1970s, and its UK subsidiary has held ISA licenses to explore the seabed for cobalt, nickel and other metals since 2013. (The company retains U.S. licenses issued decades ago to prospect for minerals in the Pacific Ocean.) Lockheed’s abrupt departure from deep-sea mining — just as the industry is reaching the potential peak of commercialization — leaves no western mining entrepreneur with big enough pockets fund the billions of dollars needed to start a seabed mining operation.
The ISA conference comes amid rising demand for cobalt, nickel and other metals used to make batteries for electric cars, and comes less than two weeks after 193 nations reached an agreement a landmark contract to protect marine biodiversity in international waters. The pressure to delay or ban the implementation of seabed mining stems from the lack of scientific knowledge about deep-sea ecosystems to be exploited.
On Thursday, British delegate Gavin Watson told the ISA Council, the organisation’s 36-nation policymaking body, that his country “would not support the granting of mining licenses for deep-sea mining projects unless there is sufficient scientific evidence of the potential impacts.” on ecosystem systems of the deep sea.”
Amid the growing strain, several accredited ISA observers said Secretariat staff threatened them with expulsion Monday for taking photos and videos of the conference proceedings and ordered them to delete files from their phones. Accredited Observers also include the United States, the Holy See, and other nations that are not ISA member states.
“An ISA employee was positioned throughout the day to essentially monitor our behavior, which was certainly very unnerving,” said Diva Amon, a deep-sea scientist representing the ISA Deep Ocean Stewardship Initiative at the conference. Amon, a long-time participant in the ISA, received a 2018 Secretary-General’s Research Award.
Arlo Hemphill, Greenpeace USA’s director of deep-sea mining and marine protected areas, said he was approached by a secretariat worker as he was charging his phone. “This woman came up to me and said, ‘I was told you were filming.’ I said I wasn’t, and then she told me that if I was caught filming, she would tear off my badge and remove my IDs,” says Hemphill, who has attended six ISA meetings. “It felt very authoritarian.”
Duncan Currie, an international lawyer and representative of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, an accredited ISA observer, said he saw Secretariat staff ordering observers to turn off their phones. A video reviewed by Bloomberg green shows Secretariat staff standing behind a group of observers and then approaching them as they appeared to be taking photographs.
ISA spokeswoman Stefanie Neno said in a statement that only journalists are allowed to take photos and videos at ISA negotiations. Thepolitics However, she only cites accredited media, not observers.
On Sunday, The New York Times published a letter dated March 16 which a German government minister sent to Lodge to object to what she described as undue interference in delegates’ discussions on alternatives to mining license approvals if the regulations are not in place by July. “In the past you have actively spoken out against the positions and proposed decisions of individual delegations,” wrote the Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Protection, Franziska Brantner. All ISA member states “must be able to trust that the Secretariat respects its duty of neutrality. ”
Lodge replied the next day. “That is not true and I reject such a baseless claim,” he wrote in a letter to Brantner dated March 17 Just.
Neno said the ISA is “fully committed to protecting the marine environment and regulating economic, exploratory and scientific activities in the deep sea,” adding: “The Secretariat’s role is not to assess the position of member states, but to facilitate negotiations and ensure that discussions are based on the best available science.”
But the secretariat has at times seemed anything but neutral. The organization creates a Video and coloring templates for children about deep-sea mining so they can “learn more about the deep sea, its incredible creatures, its environment, and the ISA’s work to explore and protect it.” And souvenirs for sale at the ISA meeting in Jamaica include “Nodule Bracelets‘, a reference to polymetallic nodules to be mined on the seabed. Scientists estimate that polymetallic nodules are the habitat for half of the larger species found in the Pacific Ocean region targeted for mining.
Gina Guillen Grillo, Ambassador of Costa Rica tweeted this on Monday, “Member States should drive the International Seabed Authority: decisions must come from them and not be driven by those who only have administrative responsibilities. The mining of the seabed must not be accelerated for the economic interests of a few.”
The ISA was established by a UN treaty in 1994 to regulate the industrialization of the seabed in international waters and ensure the protection of the marine environment. Since 2001, the agency has awarded exploration contracts to state-sponsored companies, government agencies and private companies to prospect for minerals on more than 500,000 square miles of seabed in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans. As part of this process, each mining contractor must be sponsored by an ISA member state, which is responsible for environmental compliance. But investigations through Bloomberg greenThe Los Angeles Times And The New York Times have revealed the Secretariat’s proximity to the agency’s regulated mining companies, as well as the influence some of those companies have on small Pacific island nations that sponsor their contracts.
In speeches, Lodge has downplayed the potential environmental impacts of seabed mining and has criticized what he describes as inaccurate media coverage of the ISA. 2020 he has threatened To sue Radio New Zealand for defamation for calling him a “cheerleader” for the seabed mining industry.
The ISA Council had lasted more than six years laborious regulations This would allow mining to move forward, with a non-binding 2020 target to complete them. Then, in June 2021, Nauru, a Pacific island nation of 8,000 people, invoked a provision in a UN treaty that obliges the ISA to complete the regulations within two years.
Nauru is a sponsor of a subsidiary of The metal company, a Canadian registered company formerly known as DeepGreen, which also holds mining contracts sponsored by two other small Pacific island nations. If the ISA does not approve the rules by July, it may have to provisionally approve The Metals Company’s application for a mining license under environmental protection regulations in effect at that time.
That prospect has prompted France, Germany, France, Spain, Costa Rica, New Zealand, Chile, Panama, Palau, Fiji and the Federated States of Micronesia to call for a moratorium or halt to deep-sea mining. Brazil, Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal, Singapore, Switzerland and other countries have indicated that they would not approve mining contracts until adequate seabed environmental protection is in place.
“Ocean health, people and natural ecosystems are already suffering from pollution, overfishing, acidification and extreme weather events,” said Hinano Murphy of French Polynesia, one of the Pacific Indigenous representatives who addressed the council on Monday. “However, with a ban on deep-sea mining, we see an opportunity to stop the unnecessary damage before it begins.
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