In just over three months there is a deadline for drawing up rules for commercial mining on the seabed. At the conclusion of their last meeting before the deadline, the 36 Council member states of the International Seabed Authority (ISA) in Jamaica on Friday (local time) did not agree on such a framework, but only until their next meeting in July – one day after the deadline – to continue an informal dialogue.

In view of the already documented environmental damage of unforeseeable extent, many experts and states – including Germany – called for no deep-sea mining to be permitted until the consequences have been better researched. However, after the July 9 deadline, the ISA will need to process any applications for permits for commercial deep-sea mining projects in international waters. How to deal with this as long as there is no set of rules will now be discussed in the dialogue between the meetings.

The environmental organization Greenpeace was disappointed in a statement that this has not already happened. “For the July meeting, this means that there is really pressure in the boiler, that a decision must be made there,” said Greenpeace marine expert Till Seidensticker of the German Press Agency at the ISA headquarters in the Jamaican capital Kingston. “Governments must realize that they are pushing humanity into a dangerous new industry that will cause massive damage to ecosystems.”

mining of manganese nodules

As a sponsor of a subsidiary of the Canadian group The Metals Company, the island state of Nauru announced in 2021 that it would submit an application for deep-sea mining – thus triggering the two-year deadline for the adoption of regulations, according to a clause in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Specifically, it is about the mining of manganese nodules on the sea floor in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone in the Pacific between Mexico and Hawaii. These contain raw materials that could be used in the manufacture of batteries for electric cars, for example. However, reports from Greenpeace and the environmental organization WWF question the necessity of mining the metals.

Some observers recently accused the ISA Secretariat of a lack of neutrality and proximity to industry. In a letter to Secretary General Michael Lodge, Franziska Brantner, Parliamentary State Secretary in the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs, criticized the fact that he had publicly taken a stance against proposals from member states. Lodge dismissed the criticism.

The role of the ISA’s Legal and Technical Commission in processing the soon-to-be possible dismantling applications is now becoming an important issue, as Pradeep Singh from the Research Institute for Sustainability at the Helmholtz Center Potsdam explained to the dpa. Some states wanted the ISA Council to preempt the recommendations of the commission, which has been criticized for being opaque, in order to prevent the approval of applications on dubious grounds. That faction appears to be in the majority, Singh said in Kingston, where journalists were not allowed into the room during sessions. More dialogue is now needed to show who is where.