A coalition of countries is trying to block underwater mining, negotiations for which resumed less than two weeks after a historic agreement to protect the high seas.
Less than two weeks after the historic agreement to protect the high seas, negotiations on underwater mining resumed this weekend in Jamaica. The international seabed authority, which belongs to the UN, is meeting its council for a fortnight in Kingston to try to make progress on the delicate question of the exploitation of the deep seabed, in which there are mining deposits in particular.
Industrialists are already in the starting blocks to send machines to 4,000 meters deep, capable of harvesting the funds to bring to the surface polymetallic nodules which are like black potatoes loaded with metals and which could interest industries. of energy transition.
A race against time
This is no longer science fiction: the machines exist. And a countdown has been launched by Canadian industrialists to try to obtain an operating license. Time is running out, says Anne-Sophie Roux, who is part of the “Sustainable ocean alliance”: “A race against time was activated in June 2021 by a Canadian mining company called The Metals Company which basically gives all member states of the International Seabed Authority two years to agreement on a mining code, that is to say a regulatory framework, before opening the way to the mining of the seabed. So there, it is urgent to find a way to stop this race against time .”
States believe today that the mining code will not be adopted in time. and this risks leaving the field open to industrialists for exploitation. Which would be catastrophic, believes Francois Chartier of Greenpeace: “We will end up with an exploitation without a legal framework, without a mining code, without taking environmental threats into account, and companies that would start to exploit the nodules while the mobilization, including States, is strong and that more and more more states oppose it.”
A coalition of sixteen countries is trying to build a front
In an attempt to block the partisans of exploitation, a coalition of sixteen countries, including France, will try to build a front. Emmanuel Macron has come out in favor of the ban. “The idea is to achieve a moratorium for a period of fifteen to twenty years, to be able to see all the scientists, underlines Olivier Poivre d’Arvor, the president’s envoy. We only know 3% of the seabed today, and this would allow us to have sufficient data to be able, perhaps in 20 years, to meet again and find out if we have the capacity to seek what we need.”
The battle of the deep seas will last at least until next July. Proponents of the moratorium hope that the momentum of recent major ocean summits will work in their favor.