Starting on Monday, discussions on a worldwide scale in Jamaica will focus on contentious plans to legalize mining in deep marine environments.
It comes as a result of the failure of countries to agree on new regulations, which led to the expiration of a ban on the practice that had been in place for two years. Scientists are concerned that a potential "goldrush" for precious metals beneath the waters could have catastrophic effects on the ecosystems that are home to marine life. However, proponents claim that the world requires these minerals in order to satisfy the demand for environmentally friendly technologies.
The debate was kicked off in 2021 when the teeny-tiny island nation of Nauru in the Pacific made an official request to the International Seabed Authority (ISA), the United Nations organization that supervises mining in international waters, seeking a commercial license to undertake deep sea mining. This was the event that sparked the dispute.
Despite the fact that there are only a few rudimentary regulations in place, this triggered a clause that set the ISA on a two-year countdown to decide whether or not to examine the application. Since then, countries have been getting together on a regular basis in an effort to hammer out the criteria for environmental monitoring and the distribution of royalties, but they have not been successful.
They are currently in the midst of a three-week long round of negotiations in Kingston, Jamaica. This comes at a time when there has been growing opposition to commercial deep-sea mining in order to recover rocks containing important metals.
A government spokesperson told the sources that the United Kingdom will maintain its precautionary position of not supporting the issuing of any exploitation licenses unless and until there is enough scientific proof about the impact on deep sea ecosystems. This is despite the fact that the United Kingdom has not called for a new ban on the practice.
Concerns have been expressed by marine scientists about the lack of research that has been conducted in the deep ocean to learn more about the organisms and plants that dwell there and, as a result, the potential effects that deep sea mining could have on those organisms and plants.
According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), potential procedures for harvesting the minerals from the sea floor could generate substantial amounts of noise and light pollution, as well as emit plumes of silt that pose a risk of burying species that rely on filter feeding. More than 5,000 species of animals have been discovered in the Clarion Clipperton Zone (CCZ) of the Pacific Ocean, a critical area designated for future mining endeavors.
Not all nations are categorically opposed to the practice. 14 countries, including China, Russia, India, the United Kingdom, France, and Japan, have sponsored the ISA's issuance of 31 exploration contracts to corporations wishing to conduct deep ocean research.
Furthermore, the ISA only permits contracts in international waters; nations are allowed to conduct exploration in their national waters. Norway controversially allowed mining companies to apply for licenses in the Greenland Sea, the Norwegian Sea, and the Barents Sea encompassing an area of 280,000 square kilometers (108,000 square miles) last month.