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Nauru urged to reverse deep sea mining push

Monday 28 June 2021 | Written by RNZ | Published in Nauru, Regional


Nauru urged to reverse deep sea mining push
Gerard Barron, the CEO and Chairman of DeepGreen Metals, seen here at an annual session of the International Seabed Authority as a guest of a Nauru government delegation. Photo: International Institute for Sustainable Development

Nauru's government is being urged to halt its reported push to allow deep sea mining in international waters by 2024.

A media report on Saturday claimed the Pacific Island government was intending this week to ask the International Seabed Authority (ISA) to fast-track the adoption of seabed mining regulations.

The regulations are still under consultation but Nauru's request would invoke a so-called 'two-year rule' and compel the ISA to allow seabed mining to go ahead within two years, effectively setting a deadline for the body to finalise the mining regulations.

Nauru's government hasn't responded to RNZ Pacific's request for comment, however it has forged close links to one of the companies pushing for deep sea mining.

The development of the regulations at the ISA is moving faster than many ocean scientists and environmentalists are comfortable with.

The Pacific Liaison for the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, a grouping of over 90 organizations worldwide, Phil McCabe, said triggering a 'race to the bottom' could prove disastrous for the world's oceans.

He said the coalition was urging Nauru to reconsider its path, and is also calling on the New Zealand government to speak up.

"Any responsible government would not just stand by and allow this to occur. We've got this track record in New Zealand of assessing this activity, and it's come up failing.

"We know we can't do this without causing serious harm. So our government, I feel, has a responsibility to step up and really challenge this move."

There's significant interest among deep sea mining advocates in the Pacific Islands region.

Governments in several regional countries - Cook Islands, Tonga, Kiribati and Nauru - have sponsored exploration contracts for companies hoping to mine the deepest parts of the Pacific seabed for polymetallic nodules.

One of the main companies leading the charge, DeepGreen Metals, is focussed on the massive Clarion Clipperton Zone in the Central Pacific where it has marine claims under an agreement with the ISA and sponsored by Nauru.

The Pacific Liason for the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, Phil McCabe. Photo: VNP / Phil Smith via RNZ

Deep sea mining advocates say polymetallic nodules on the seabed are needed for batteries in electric vehicles to aid transition to de-carbonised economies.

But many scientists warn deep sea mining might threaten the ocean's capacity to store carbon and slow climate change.

Last week, more than 300 scientists from 44 countries called for a pause on deep sea mining activities to allow more research.

The leading ocean experts who issued the statement argue that far too little is known about the ocean ecosystems in the deep sea.

These ecosystems are already under stress from climate change, bottom trawling and pollution, and the scientists say deep-sea mining would inflict irreversible damage to the ocean.

Furthermore, Pacific civil society groups are calling for the ISA to pause issuing new exploration contracts in international seas.

In April, a number of major global companies, including car manufacturers Volvo and BMW as well as tech giant Google and Korean battery maker Samsung SDI, signed up to a World Wildlife Fund call for a moratorium on deep sea mining.

They promised to exclude any deep sea minerals from their supply chains before environmental risks are "comprehensively understood".