Norway becomes first country to back deep-sea mining despite environmental concerns

Norway has become the first country in the world to give the green light to the controversial practice of deep sea mining.

A bill passed in the Norwegian Parliament on Tuesday (January 9) will speed up the underwater search for minerals needed to build green technology, such as batteries for electric vehicles. Authorizes opening parts of the country’s sea to mining exploration.

Little by little, some 280,000 square meters of the country’s national waters could be opened, an area almost the size of Italy located in the Arctic between Svalbard, Greenland and Iceland.

The Norwegian government has said it is being cautious and is unlikely to approve licenses to extract minerals from the seabed any time soon.

“Now we will see if this can be done sustainably,” Energy Minister Terje Aasland told parliament.

But this has not stopped widespread warnings from scientists and environmental experts that the plans could devastate marine life and affect carbon stored in the ocean. They say much more research is needed to understand the true impact before any deep sea mining takes place.

What is at the bottom of the sea?

Deep under the seafloor are small potato-sized rocks known as nodules and metallic crusts along hydrothermal vents and seamounts that contain minerals essential for green technologies such as cobalt and zinc.

Although vital in the manufacturing of objects such as batteries or solar panels, extracting power sources on land often involves risky supply chains and unethical practices.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, recent research by Amnesty International and the Good Governance and Human Rights Initiative, based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, concluded that The extraction of minerals used in green technology had led to human rights abuses, including forced evictions and physical attacks.

In December, Norwegian parliamentarian Marianne Sivertsen Naess said at a press conference that the minerals were necessary because the country wanted to “lead a green transition in the form of fuel cells and solar panels, of electric cars and mobile phones.”

The exploitation of these resources found on the seabed and which are essential for renewable energy technology could turn the country into a major producer of minerals. It could also help you move away from the oil and gas industry, while secure the supply of minerals within Europe.

Companies pushing deep-sea mining have argued that it will be cheaper and have less environmental impact than mining on land.

Why is deep sea mining so controversial?

Activists and environmental groups gathered outside the Norwegian parliament on Tuesday to protest after the vote was approved.

They say the country is pressing ahead with a plan to open Arctic waters to mining companies despite massive criticism from fishing organizations, scientists and even the broader international community.

“The deep sea is the world’s largest carbon pool and our last intact wilderness, with unique wildlife and important habitats that exist nowhere else on Earth,” said Kaja Lønne Fjærtoft, global policy leader at WWF’s No Seabed Mining Initiative.

International activists and environmental organizations gather in front of the Norwegian Parliament as the vote was passed to approve the opening to deep sea mining.

International activists and environmental organizations gather in front of the Norwegian Parliament as the vote was passed to approve the opening to deep sea mining. – © Will Rose / Green Peace

“Parliament’s decision to press ahead with seabed mining against all expert advice, with an impact assessment that has been widely criticised, is a catastrophe for the ocean and leaves a huge stain on Norway’s reputation. as a responsible oceanic nation.

More than 800 marine scientists and policy experts from 44 countries have called for a pause on deep sea mining plans which, they say, could cause “irreversible damage” to biodiversity and ecosystems. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has said mining could flood the seabed with light and noise pollution and damage the habitats of species that depend on the potato-sized nodules.

A study published in November hinted at the dangers. Scientists aboard a ship in the fjords of Norway exposed jellyfish to the conditions they might face in the open sea due to mining. They didn’t do it well, as they tried to get rid of the sediment produced by the researchers’ simulation. Species like these, the study notes, are vital to the biological cycles that maintain carbon reserves in the depths of the ocean.

Norwegian experts themselves also criticized the mining plans. The government has applied the results of a small research area to the entire area it will open to drilling, says the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research (IMR), estimating that five to ten years of research are needed to discover its true impacts.

Do we need deep sea mining for the green transition?

It’s not just scientists, activists and marine experts who are concerned: Norway’s plans for deep-sea mining have met with international criticism.

Norway’s neighbors the EU and the UK have called for a temporary ban on the practice on environmental grounds. 120 EU legislators wrote an open letter to the Norwegian Parliament in November, asking them not to support the project.

“The green transition cannot be used as a justification for harming biodiversity and the world’s largest national carbon sink, especially since alternatives exist,” they wrote. Lawmakers argue that recycling and reusing the minerals that can be found in e-waste is a better source of materials.

Discarded mobile phones fill a bin at the company's out-of-use warehouse in Beringen, Belgium.Discarded mobile phones fill a bin at the company's out-of-use warehouse in Beringen, Belgium.

Discarded mobile phones fill a bin at the company’s out-of-use warehouse in Beringen, Belgium. – AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert, File

According to a report from the Environmental Justice Foundation released on voting day, deep sea mining is not necessary for the transition to clean energy. He predicts that a combination of new technology, a circular economy and recycling could reduce mineral demand by 58 percent between 2022 and 2050.

“Deep sea mining is a search for minerals we don’t need, with environmental damage we can’t afford,” said foundation CEO and founder Steve Trent.

“We know very little about the deep ocean, but we know enough to be sure that mining it will kill unique wildlife, disrupt the world’s largest carbon pool, and do nothing to accelerate the transition to clean economies.”

Could international waters be opened to deep sea mining?

The EU parliamentarians’ letter also warned of another potential danger.

By becoming the first country in the world to allow deep-sea mineral exploration and extraction, Norway would be setting a precedent in ongoing negotiations to open international waters to deep-sea mining.

“We cannot risk rushing the opening of all the world’s oceans to the mining industry,” they wrote.

More than 30 countries, including the United Kingdom and The EU is in favor of a temporary ban but others, such as China and Japan, are interested in an agreement to mine in international waters.

The next meeting of the International Seabed Authority (ISA) will take place later this year, where negotiations will continue to finalize rules on deep-sea mining in international waters. It remains to be seen how the precedent set by Norway might impact broader global attitudes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *