Global Ocean Treaty may block deep sea mining

Climate Crisis, Energy Companies, International

Philip Pearson Greener Jobs Alliance

On 5 March 2023, the UN finally agreed an historic ocean protection treaty. Oceans Campaigner at Greenpeace International, Louisa Casson, says it’s

‘a monumental win for ocean protection, an important sign that multilateralism still works in an increasingly divided world. The agreement of this Global Ocean Treaty sends a powerful signal that the tide is turning and that governments can put protection, not exploitation, at the heart of our approach to the global oceans.’

This momentum will almost inevitably spill-over into the highly controversial deep sea mining negotiations led by the International Seabed Authority (ISA), which opens in Jamaica this month.

Multinationals like the Metals Company are pressing for sponsorship deals with Pacific island nations Nauru, Tonga and Kiribati to stripmine metallic nodules on vast tracts of the ocean floor for the copper, cobalt and nickel they contain. Hopefully the treaty will embolden more governments to join the calls to stop this risky industry before it starts.

Many governments will not want to be seen to undermine the achievement of agreeing this Treaty by giving a green light to strip-mining the seabed just two weeks after this historic success. Campaigners will be holding politicians to account for their commitment to deliver ocean protection through to the upcoming talks in Jamaica.

The treaty still needs to be ratified and to come into force. But elements of the Global Ocean Treaty will play a role in helping to protect the oceans from destructive activities like deep sea mining, including:

  • a pathway to create a network of ‘ocean sanctuaries.’ These will protect wildlife living in the high seas from all forms of industrial exploitation, to create ecologically-coherent, representative protection across international waters.
  • standards and guidelines for strong Environmental Impact Assessments can help raise the bar and may influence ongoing negotiations at the ISA about assessing the potential for harm from strip-mining the ocean floor.

However, the Treaty of itself will not be enough to prevent the destruction caused by deep sea mining. Even if global targets are met – 30% of the oceans fully or highly protected – the polluting impacts would spread far beyond boundaries of mining zones. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has now called on the ISA member states to halt all mining activities.

A ban or moratorium on deep sea mining is a necessary partner to a strong Global Ocean Treaty. 2023 is a crucial year for governments to make them happen.

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