March/April 2021 · Volume 6, Issue 3
Major Brands Say No to Deep-sea Mining, for the Moment
Featured Image: Protest against Deep Sea Mining in the Pacific, photo by © Marten van Dijl / Greenpeace.
On Wednesday, March 30, several major technology and automotive companies joined the deep-sea mining moratorium movement. Google, BMW, Volvo, and Samsung SDI (a Samsung subsidiary responsible for manufacturing small lithium-ion batteries for smartphones and other applications) signed on to the World Wide Fund For Nature’s Global Deep-sea Mining Moratorium Campaign. These are the first major corporations to commit not to source minerals from the deep seabed or finance deep-sea mining activities, and to exclude seafloor minerals from their supply chain.
“Sustainability leaders should be concerned about how their green image could be affected by incorporating deep sea minerals into their metal supply chain,” says Kristina M. Gjerde, Senior High Seas Advisor to the IUCN Global Marine and Polar Programme. “Deep sea minerals are not solving the problem of harmful impacts, just relocating it elsewhere, where the affected communities are less able to speak for themselves. Moreover, it should be clear by now that relocating mining to the deep sea is unlikely to reduce the issues associated with terrestrial mining. By increasing the availability of minerals, deep sea mining could in fact make it harder to clean up terrestrial mining activities.”
As major automotive manufacturers in the midst of a pivot to electric vehicles, BMW and Volvo’s announcements represent a potential threat to the deep-sea metal market. BMW expects 50% of all its vehicle sales to be electric by the end of the decade, with several BMW subsidiaries, including Mini, producing only EVs by 2030. Volvo, who also intends to be fully electric by 2030, recently shipped its first all-electric vehicle to the United States, though software issues caused the long-awaited XC40 Recharge to be held in port pending a critical system update.
From the Editor: Everything happening at the ISA that we couldn’t fit into the March/April Issue
Even though this is a big edition of the Deep-sea Mining Observer, it was an even bigger month for deep-sea mining and there are several topics that we had to bump coverage on to future issues. As the world slowly (and inequitably) emerges from the pandemic, the International Seabed Authority continues working towards its goal of operationalizing the Enterprise and bringing deep-sea mining to commercial production.
Last month, the ISA released the report from the Mid-Atlantic Ridge Regional Environmental Management Plan working group. In this Issue, Megan Jungwiwattanaporn of the Pew Charitable Trusts presents an argument that the ISA must improve regional plans—and processes—to protect ocean life. The Authority has also recently released its draft standards and guidelines for a variety of stakeholder issues, including establishing environmental baselines, risk assessments, and management and monitoring plans, among others. The ISA is accepting stakeholder comments on these standards and guidelines through June 7, 2021.
Faced with the ongoing challenge of making progress on the Mining Code in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ISA took the unprecedented step of extending the terms of office of the current Legal and Technical Commission by one year. Current members will now serve until the end of 2022. This has raised some concern among stakeholders, who note that a major issue of contention at the last in-person Council meeting, held in February of 2020, was that the geographic distribution of expertise within the LTC is not representative of member states and that more effort needed to be made to ensure equitable representation on the Commission. This extension means that there is a high likelihood that the Mining Code ultimately presented to the Assembly for approval will be finalized by the current LTC.
The Legal and Technical Commission is currently meeting remotely through July 1, 2021 as part of the extended 26th Session of the International Seabed Authority.
The next in-person meeting of the 26th Session of the ISA is scheduled for mid-July, with the Finance Committee meeting July 12-14, the Council meeting July 19-23, and the Assembly meeting July 26-30, 2021.The ISA is also inviting artists to submit pieces on the theme of “creatures from the deep” for two art contests, one for Jamaican elementary school students, and a second for artists worldwide. The deadline for submissions is May 14, 2021.
ISA Must Improve Regional Plans—and Processes—to Protect Ocean Life
Featured Image: Black smoker in Lau Basin. Image courtesy NOAA-Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory.
Opinion/Editorial by Megan Jungwiwattanaporn
When countries began to contemplate seabed mining decades ago, their representatives assumed that the ocean bottom was featureless and lifeless, uninteresting except for the minerals that might be recovered from it. Now we know that the seabed is, in fact, a varied tapestry of physical features and marine life rather than a desolate expanse.
With some governments and companies pushing to mine the seabed, we need a system in place to ensure that seabed mining does not happen unless the marine environment can be protected. And because the density and type of life—and connections between habitats and species—vary from place to place, some policies should be location-specific.
The International Seabed Authority (ISA), which oversees all mining in areas beyond national jurisdiction, can establish such policies by creating regional environmental management plans (REMPs). As part of a broader code of mining rules and regulations, REMPs offer geographically targeted environmental protections in the form of regional management goals, thresholds for mining impacts such as noise and plumes, and protected areas while also considering other ocean uses. In short, the ISA should permit no mining in a region that does not have an effective REMP in place.
However, the ISA does not yet have a defined process for developing satisfactory REMPs.
Featured Image: Patania and Patania II scale models on display at the International Seabed Authority. Photo by A. Thaler.
Opinion/Editorial by Kris Van Nijen, Global Sea Mineral Resources
Harmony has broken out in the world of deep-seabed mining. At last, contractors, regulators, NGOs and end users are aligned on the way forward. After years of heated debate, a snowball effect has occurred, and all parties have agreed that more research is needed before commercial exploitation of the deep sea can be considered.
This is a victory for campaigners who have long fought for a precautionary pause. It is a victory for regulators who have long insisted on comprehensive environmental impact assessment and a precautionary approach prior to commercial operations. It is a victory for end users who want to build truly sustainable supply chains. And it is a victory for contractors who have been fully aligned with all of these objectives from the very beginning.
The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution held a Zoom meeting 2500 meters deep, while live-streaming from an ROV in the East Pacific. Unfortunately, the post-meeting video is not available yet, but marine biologist Dr. Rebecca Helm captured the highlights in a Twitter thread.
Life Cycle Assessment will Play an Important in Decision Making for Deep-sea Mining
Featured Image: C-LCA by Julienpoullot from Wikimedia Commons.
Maria Bolevich for the Deep-sea Mining Observer
Last April, DeepGreen published a first of its kind life cycle analysis comparing the environmental, social, and economic impacts of land-based ores and deep-ocean polymetallic nodules. “Billions of tons of metal will be taken from the planet between now and 2050 to enable the clean energy transition,” says Gerard Barron, CEO of DeepGreen. “We need to understand the environmental and social cost of this extraction and do everything we can to compress it. [Life cycle assessment] helps compare the impacts of the alternatives.”
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is among the most successful methods to gauge the environmental impacts associated with a product from creation to disposal. Life cycle assessment has broadened to include life cycle costing and social LCA, within the life cycle sustainability assessment framework.
Deepak Rajagopal, a professor at the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, explains that LCA is valuable for individual mining contractors to identify where much of the cost and emissions arise in deep-sea mining and how this compares to alternatives at each step in the production chain and it can help civil society understand the overall costs and emissions compared to the long-term potential of the mining activity. “LCA is very useful at early stages of a new technology,” says Rajagopal, “but extrapolating LCAs to infer anything about long-run or large-scale impact is very challenging. It is best used to identify hot-spots or vulnerabilities in the supply chain and try to alter the design or supply chain before things solidify too much.”
Deep-sea Mining in the News
Will Future Electric Vehicles Be Powered by Deep-Sea Metals?
(Wired) Mining companies and marine scientists want to know whether harvesting blobs of useful materials from the seafloor harms ocean life.
DeepGreen CEO Gerard Barron Opens Up About DeepGreen’s Open Letter To BMW & Other Brands
(CleanTechnica) DeepGreen penned an open letter to BMW, Volvo, Google, and other brands about the importance of seafloor minerals and approached extraction cautiously with an exacting commitment to science-based impact analysis and environmental protection.
DeepGreen prepares to go public as The Metals Company
Featured Image: header from the DeepGreen/The Metals Company Fact Sheet
Late last month, DeepGreen announced its plan to enter into a reverse merger with special purpose acquisition company Sustainable Opportunities Acquisition Corporation to create The Metals Company. Special purpose acquisition companies are publicly traded investment entities that allow private companies to go public through acquisition, rather than through a traditional IPO. The new company, whose creation comes with additional investments from Allseas, Maersk Supply Service, and others, will be valued at $2.9 billion. The Metals Company will continue DeepGreen’s mission of developing the polymetallic nodule resources of the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone.
Sourcing battery metal, especially nickel and cobalt, is one of the biggest barriers to the green energy transition. Though cobalt has held the spotlight in the deep-sea mining press, Gerard Barron, CEO of DeepGreen, who will remain on as head of The Metals Company, explains that their focus has always been nickel. “The [electric vehicle] industry has doubled down on nickel and I think that more and more in the coming period, people are going to start asking questions about the [environmental, social, governance] impact of extracting more nickel, and if we leave it the way it is, it’s horrible. Because it’s not just the process of collecting nodules, or mining on land, or processing on land, it’s the [life cycle assessment] impacts. It’s about where did you get it from, how much sequestered carbon was impacted, what can you use that land for, when will it be available to sequester carbon again in the future?”
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DSM Observer is published by Blackbeard Biologic: Science and Environmental Advisors, via a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts to the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences. Editor-in-chief: Andrew Thaler