Highlighting critical gaps in decision making on deep-seabed mining

May 2022 — On 5th May 2022, Professor Morgera was invited by the World Economic Forum to contribute to a webinar on “Decision-Making on Deep-Sea Mineral Stewardship: A Supply Chain Perspective.” The webinar served to discuss a white paper commissioned by the Forum on the potential exploitation of deep-sea minerals from the perspective of the responsible sourcing of materials and downstream manufacturers and markets that source minerals that could power the low-carbon transition. The paper identified significant gaps in knowledge, stakeholder participation and consensus, which together impede sound decision-making on deep-sea mineral stewardship.


Image by Mitchell Raman on Pixabay 

Professor Morgera, presenting findings also from One Ocean Hub early-career researchers Kirsty McQuaid and Holly Niner (Plymouth University, UK) and Graham Hamley (SCELG), underscored that: 

  • The International Seabed Authority (ISA) has a mandate to protect the marine environment and ensure benefits to humankind, which should also be understood with reference to the deep-sea ecosystems services that are experienced globally (such as climate regulation, food provision, bio-medical and other innovation, knowledge production to inform conservation and sustainable use, as well as cultural and spiritual services);
  • critical knowledge gaps concern: the relationships controlling deep-sea ecosystem functions; the thresholds for impact from deep-seabed mining (insufficient data); the ecological connectivity and effects are experienced very far from the deep-seabed (with effects not likely to be evenly experienced); the interactions between SDGs and blue economy policies; and how distant the majority of those likely to be affected by any damage to ecosystem services are from decision-making and from oversight of the industry;
  • risks for states include: non-compliance with international obligations on the protection of the environment from various sources (ocean, climate change, biodiversity) and with international human rights obligations (procedural, as well as substantive (particularly human right to health) beyond mining site (interruption or impairment of ecosystem services such as disruption of fish stocks and interruption of fisheries, and bioaccumulation of metal residues in marine species that may be passed up to the human food chain; and regulating services, by disturbing carbon sequestered in seabed sediment);
  • Hindrance to advancing ocean science and knowledge production, undermining effective conservation, thresholds for sustainable use in other sectors; and bio-discovery (global health, renewables, conservation); and
  • Risks for companies: difficult to establish minimum due diligence as best practice from other industry sectors (under which biodiversity decline has continued) is difficult to relate to the knowledge gaps and unique challenges of deep-seabed mining; the lack of inclusion of marine and social sciences in expert judgment and baseline data (and limited consistency of available data that prevents comparison and regional environmental management); and inappropriate inclusion of remediation and biodiversity offsetting in the deep-sea mining context. 

The meeting was held under Chatham House Rules. Professor Morgera’s presentation built on the previous submissions to the International Seabed Authority (see here), as well as a prior presentation on this topic available here

SCELG member Graham Hamley is working on an article on “The Implications of Deep Seabed Mining for the Human Right to Health” and Professor Morgera on a co-authored article “Transparency at the International Seabed Authority – matter of international human rights obligations, not just good practice?” that will appear in a special issue, led by the One Ocean Hub, of the Review of European, Comparative and International Environmental Law before the end of 2022. 

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