By Te Ipukarea Society

RAROTONGA, 01 NOVEMBER 2021 — For those of us from the Cook Islands who are concerned about deep sea mining, it may be reassuring to learn that we are not alone.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress (WCC), held every four years, is perhaps the largest gathering of scientists in the world.

Last month the congress was held in Marseilles, France, and one of the main activities was to consider and vote on a range of motions put forward by various members of the IUCN constituency. 

This year there were 137 motions voted upon, either at the congress or by electronic vote beforehand. 

One of these, motion 69, is particularly relevant to our Government’s plans on deep sea mining. 

Motion 069 – Protection of deep-ocean ecosystems and biodiversity through a moratorium on seabed mining, was overwhelmingly passed in the vote, with 82 per cent of government representatives and 95 per cent of NGO representatives voting in favour.  

The full text of the motion, which has now become IUCN Resolution 122, is attached below.

IUCN resolutions are non-binding. However, by referring to IUCN resolutions such as this one in their work, organisations and individuals have an opportunity to enhance nature conservation and thereby human well-being. 

Analysis of voting

The number of participants at this year’s Congress was severely limited by Covid travel restrictions.

Motion 69 could only be voted on in person at the Congress, or by proxy. There were 44 government representatives from 39 countries who voted YES for the motion, and only eight, from six countries that voted against it.

Most of those that voted against it were those connected to companies with commercial interest in deep sea mining.

These were two from each of Japan, China and Belgium and one each from Norway. Algeria and Niger also voted against. 

There were another 19 government representatives from 16 countries that did not cast a vote or abstained, including Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Canada and France.

There were 533 NGOs that voted YES for the motion. Of the 32 NGOs from around the world that voted NO, 26 were from China, voting in line with their government, which is sponsoring more licences to mine in international waters than any other country. 

A total of 48 NGOs did not vote or abstained.

Next Steps

We believe the passing of Resolution 122 provides huge support for our ongoing calls for a minimum 10-year moratorium on deep sea mining.  

The text of the resolution tells you why we need to slow down. 

Meanwhile, instead of investing so much into the deep sea mining, with all its inherent risks, the world’s investors should be supporting companies looking to mine the landfills that are already full of these metals.

These come from discarded laptop computers, mobile phones, and batteries.  These materials are a toxic time bomb, and recycling them not only reduces the need for new metals to be mined, it helps deal with the current levels of toxic waste, which is an environmental time bomb.

IUCN Resolution 112, approved at the Marseille IUCN Conservation Congress on 10 September, 2021

RECALLING that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) established the International Seabed Authority (ISA) to act on behalf of humankind as a whole and charged it with ensuring the effective protection of the marine environment from harmful effects of seabed mining activities in areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ);

RECALLING UNCLOS Articles 136 and 145, Article 5 of the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the commitments of states to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development including Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 12 and 14;

RECALLING Resolution 5.079 Protection of the deep ocean ecosystem and biodiversity from the threats of sea bed mining (Jeju, 2012) urging all State Members of IUCN to facilitate the adoption of precautionary and ecosystem approaches, including the precautionary principle, with respect to deep-sea mining;

NOTING that the ISA has already approved 30 licences for the exploration of seabed minerals in ABNJ, and is working to adopt commercial mining regulations to enable applications from countries and companies for commercial mining permits in the international seabed area;

NOTING the need to ensure sufficient scientific information on deep-sea biodiversity and ecosystems and an appropriate and transparent institutional structure prior to adopting such regulations;

NOTING the warning of the 2019 Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services that up to a million species are threatened with extinction;

RECOGNISING advances in scientific knowledge since 2012 regarding deep-sea mining and concerns expressed by scientists that biodiversity loss will be inevitable if deep-sea mining is permitted to occur, that this loss is likely to be permanent on human timescales, and that the consequences for ocean ecosystem function are unknown;

CONSIDERING the unique, vulnerable character of deep ocean and seabed ecosystems, and their fundamental and intrinsic value to life on Earth;

NOTING the existence of studies that predict growth in the demand for minerals determined to be strategic, and considering that this demand should be met first through effective processes of a circular economy, so that the extraction of minerals (including from seabed mining) is carried out only when sources of materials from recycling or reuse are insufficient; and

NOTING commitments in SDGs 12, 13 and 14;

The IUCN World Conservation Congress, at its session in Marseille, France:

CALLS on all State Members, individually and through relevant international fora, to:

a. support and implement a moratorium on deep seabed mining, issuing of new exploitation and new exploration contracts, and the adoption of seabed mining regulations for exploitation, including ‘exploitation’ regulations by the International Seabed Authority (ISA), unless and until:

i. rigorous and transparent impact assessments have been conducted, the environmental, social, cultural and economic risks of deep seabed mining are comprehensively understood, and the effective protection of the marine environment can be ensured;

ii. the precautionary principle, ecosystem approach, and the polluter pays principle have been implemented;

iii. policies to ensure the responsible production and use of metals, such as the reduction of demand for primary metals, a transformation to a resource-efficient circular economy, and responsible terrestrial mining practices, have been developed and implemented; and

iv. public consultation mechanisms have been incorporated into all decision-making processes related to deep-sea mining ensuring effective engagement allowing for independent review, and, where relevant, that the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples is respected and consent from potentially affected communities is achieved; and

b. promote the reform of the ISA to ensure transparent, accountable, inclusive, effective and environmentally responsible decision making and regulation… PACNEWS

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