Major Companies Join Call for Deep-Sea Mining Moratorium


An illustration of deep seabed mining. WWF

For the first time, major companies are adding their voices to the call for a ban on deep-sea mining.

Google, BMW, Volvo and Samsung SD all signed a WWF statement last Wednesday calling for a moratorium on the controversial practice until its environmental impacts are thoroughly understood, Reuters reported.

“We welcome this important step, and call on other companies who care about the ocean to join these leaders by signing on to the statement,” WWF International Global Ocean leader John Tanzer said in a press release. “It is a clear message to those who are swayed by the false promise that deep seabed mining is a ‘green’ and attractive investment proposition. It is not so.”

Deep-sea mining would involve the extraction of mineral-rich, potato-sized nodules from the ocean floor, as BBC News explained. These nodules contain elements like cobalt that are necessary for building electric vehicle batteries. Proponents therefore argue that mining the seafloor is an important tool for fighting the climate crisis while being less damaging than mining on land.

But WWF counters that the practice could be extremely damaging for little-understood deep-sea ecosystems, harm fisheries and disrupt nutrient and carbon cycles. This argument has proved persuasive to some companies.

“It’s the fear that everything we do down there could have irreversible consequences,” senior BMW sustainability expert Claudia Becker told BBC News. “Those nodules grew over millions of years and if we take them out now, we don’t understand how many species depend on them – what does this mean for the beginning of our food chain? There’s way too little evidence, the research is just starting, it’s too big a risk.”

In signing WWF’s statement, BMW and the other companies are pledging not to source minerals from the seabed, not to permit them into their supply chains and not to fund any mining exploration. They are asking the moratorium be kept in place until three conditions are met:

  1. The risks are clearly understood.
  2. All alternative mineral sources have been used up.
  3. It is clear the mining can be done in a way that preserves marine ecosystems and biodiversity.

Despite WWF’s concerns, mining companies are moving ahead with exploring the possibilities of deep-sea mining. DeepGreen, GSR and UK Seabed Resources, a UK Lockheed Martin subsidiary, all hold exploratory licenses, Reuters reported. Norway has said it could license companies to begin the practice as soon as 2023.

DeepGreen, which plans to mine in the Pacific, argued that the mining was necessary to fight the climate crisis and was less harmful than other ways of accessing key minerals.

“Where exactly will BMW get the battery metals it needs to fully electrify its products, and with what impact to our climate?” the company said in a statement reported by BBC News. “Will Volvo customers really prefer rainforest metals in their EVs once they realise their dire impacts on freshwater ecosystems, indigenous peoples, charismatic megafauna and carbon-storing forests?”

However, WWF argued that these are the wrong questions.

“The pro-deep seabed mining lobby is creating their own narrative by choosing to portray only some of what we know and don’t know. They are selling a story that companies need deep seabed minerals in order to produce electric cars, batteries and other items that reduce carbon emissions,” Jessica Battle, leader of WWF’s No Deep Seabed Mining Initiative, said in the press release. “But savvy companies that are committed to sustainability are seeing through that false narrative. Deep seabed mining is an avoidable environmental disaster. We can decarbonize through innovation, redesigning, reducing, reusing and recycling.”

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