Deep-sea mining authority targets 2025 for regulations

25th July 2023 By: Bloomberg

The International Seabed Authority (ISA) on Friday reached an agreement that gives the United Nations-affiliated regulator breathing room to finish rules for strip-mining deep ocean ecosystems for valuable metals before it must consider issuing mining licenses.

At its annual meeting that stretched into Friday evening, the ISA’s 36-member policymaking Council said it would work “with a view” to adopting regulations in 2025. The agreement came after hours of closed-door negotiations at the organization’s Kingston, Jamaica, headquarters on the last day of a two-week meeting.

The Authority missed a deadline on July 9 to enact regulations to allow mining of the seabed for minerals used to make batteries for electric vehicles and other key components of the clean energy transition. That means it must accept license applications from mining companies. The ISA has issued 31 licenses to mining contractors to explore the seabed in international waters for minerals but none are yet allowed to start mining.

But the question of whether it must act — and how — on any submissions in the absence of environmental safeguards has divided the Council. A growing number of the Authority’s 168 member nations (plus the European Union) are calling for a moratorium or pause on deep sea mining due to a severe lack of scientific knowledge about the seabed ecosystems targeted for exploitation.

Tensions at the Authority have been rising since 2021 when Nauru, a South Pacific island nation of 8,000 people, invoked the “two-year rule,” a provision of the ISA’s charter that required the ISA to complete the mining code by July 9, 2023, or accept mining applications under whatever regulations exist at the time.

Nauru is the ISA state sponsor of The Metals Company (TMC), a Canadian-registered venture formerly known as DeepGreen, that has told investors it expects to begin mining in 2024.

The island nation’s delegate at the meetings, Margo Deiye, expressed disappointment at the compromise reached Friday evening, saying the language was vague and did not set a firm deadline for enacting mining regulations.

Since 2017, the ISA has been slowly developing a complex “Mining Code” that involves establishing environmental standards, a formula to share mining royalties and the creation of inspection and compliance procedures to police industrial activity that would occur thousands of miles from shore and 2.5 miles below the surface of the ocean.