Why do we need mining

Why we are against deep-sea mining ...

... and you should be too.

Governments and mining companies want to convince us that we need raw materials from the deep sea for a modern future. With mining in the deep sea, a new, destructive branch of industry is being built up in the oceans. What for?

Together with local communities, churches and environmental, development and human rights organizations in Oceania, we say:

We do not need or want any deep-sea mining!

Why is?

It has been known since the 1970s that there are mineral raw materials on the bottom of the oceans. The aim of deep-sea mining is to dismantle these and make them usable for industry. Governments and industry have obtained licenses to research deep-sea mining from the International Seabed Authority (ISA), an agency of the United Nations (UN). These license areas are located in the high seas, the part of the oceans that does not belong to any state, but to the international community. 30 of these license areas have already been distributed to states and companies. Together they cover an area of ​​2 million km2. Within these areas, states and industry first want to research what actually lies on the ocean floor in order to eventually extract these raw materials.
The dramatic thing is that these license areas, some of which are 75,000 km2 in size, are often located in ecologically sensitive waters. So far, little is known what the function of raw materials in the ecosystem is, how the interaction of animals, fish, bacteria and plants works in the deep sea and what impact a disturbance or destruction of the seabed will have on the entire oceans or the climate.

Human rights are violated

A common argument of the supporters of deep-sea mining is that, in contrast to mining on land, there are no human rights violations in deep-sea mining, because after all there are no people living there. With deep-sea mining, the exploitation of people in the extraction of raw materials would finally end. Thats not right.
For one thing, there is no evidence that deep-sea mining will really end land mining. On the contrary - some of the main investors in deep-sea mining companies are land mining companies - e.g. Glencore. Mining companies try to diversify their company portfolio with deep-sea mining and develop new sources of raw materials. That will not end the often inhumane land mining. In addition, the forecasts for the consumption of mineral raw materials assume that more and more metals, ores and rare earths will be required for industry and digitalization. This very problematic development of the ever-increasing consumption of resources will certainly not lead to less mining.
The argument that there are no human rights violations in deep-sea mining, because it takes place thousands of kilometers off the coast, is also wrong. In addition to areas in the high seas, there are hundreds of licenses that have been granted for research into deep-sea mining near the coast - sometimes no more than a few kilometers from the beach. These are not in international waters, but within the territories of states. The national laws apply in each case. This type of deep-sea mining project is planned especially in the Pacific, with devastating consequences for the local population.

Resistance in the Pacific

The Pacific and especially the South Pacific island states play a special role in deep-sea mining. Their vast marine areas have valuable mineral deposits. You don't have to wait for internationally negotiated rules here, in the sovereign territory of the island states. Industry, other states and the ISA promise the Pacific governments that, as pioneers of deep-sea mining, they can generate new income for their national coffers. This is very attractive to the governments of many poor countries in the Pacific, including Papua New Guinea or Nauru.
But once offshore mining begins, other major industries will suffer. This applies in particular to small-scale fishing, export-oriented fishing and tourism, which are very important in the Pacific. In addition, local populations and international human rights organizations accuse some Pacific governments of high levels of corruption. Even if deep-sea mining does generate profits, there are great doubts that it will benefit the local people. In addition, those Pacific states in particular, in which there are already onshore mining projects with all their negative consequences for people and the environment, now want to promote deep-sea mining.
Dozens of exploration licenses have now been granted to corporations by Pacific island states. On the other hand, there are massive local and transnational protests in the form of demonstrations, legal actions, signature campaigns and political lobbying. With success!
The most advanced deep-sea mining project to date is currently considered to have failed: Solwara I, the name of the mining area and venture in the Bismarck Sea of ​​Papua New Guinea, has been the scene of explorations, machine tests and promises of big profits for years. But thanks to the Alliance of Solwara Warriors (Alliance of Fighters for the Sea), an association of local activists, church representatives, fishermen and coastal residents, the Canadian company Nautilus Minerals had to postpone the planned mining project several times meanwhile quit.

Corruption, nepotism and a lack of transparency

The stoppage of Solwara I and the bankruptcy of Nautilus Minerals was a great success in the fight against deep-sea mining. But a new company has now taken the place of the most influential industrial player: DeepGreen, a corporation also based in Canada.
DeepGreen is not all that new, however, and that is where the first scandal lies. The history of the company is closely linked to Nautilus. DeepGreen was founded by Robert Heydon, the former head of Nautilus. One of the first investors in Nautilus was Gerard Barron. Barron, whose six-year stint at Nautilus earned him $ 31 million on a $ 226,000 investment, is now the executive director and chairman of DeepGreen. As pioneers, Nautilus Minerals and DeepGreen have already made significant profits without actually mining. Their success is based on speculation on the potential of deep-sea mining in the Pacific Ocean. In order to promote deep-sea mining in the Pacific, DeepGreen has already received several licenses from Pacific states, such as Tonga and Nauru, and is working on their deep-sea mining legislation. Against the will and under protest of the local population.
Of course, none of this is part of DeepGreen's PR strategy. Rather, the company sells itself as a green, clean, human rights-compliant alternative to dirty land mining. It is said that the energy transition can only be achieved with marine raw materials. That's not true.
In order to raise capital, DeepGreen must convince investors that they have official approval, the necessary social recognition and can offer financial returns. That is why DeepGreen is also very prominent in the international negotiations for deep-sea mining regulations at the ISA. And that brings us to the second scandal: The Secretary General of this UN agency, Michael Lodge, is so enthusiastic about the commercial potential of deep-sea mining that he is actively involved in the marketing of DeepGreen in his official position. In addition to appearing in DeepGreen promotional videos, he has represented the company's interests at Pacific Island policymaker meetings and lectures at the University of the South Pacific.
Civil society participation in the ISA is limited to observer status and to a few bodies. Various deep-sea mining companies, on the other hand, have appeared as members of government delegations in the past. The boss of DeepGreen, Gerard Barron, took Naurus seat at the ISA assembly in February 2019 and was able to represent the interests of his company and urge the ISA assembly to finalize the dismantling rules quickly.
Since the exploration licenses issued by the ISA to companies and their reports to the ISA are secret, it is to be feared that the mining rules that are currently being negotiated will take company interests into account more than the protection of the marine environment and human rights. And that it is all about one thing: to get to the resources of the oceans as quickly and cheaply as possible. A serious social debate about whether we need the resources at all, whether we want to accept the destruction of the oceans and also who is actually liable and pays if an accident happens during dismantling - none of this is wanted.

Instead of overexploitation, we need a different industry and economy

Our seas belong to all of us. In this regard, the deep-sea floor was officially declared by the United Nations in 1970 as a common heritage of mankind. This means that it should also be protected from exploitation by individual nation states and companies for future generations.
But it is precisely this exploitation that is now being planned. Even if the negotiations at the ISA take place under the guise of the United Nations and mechanisms are worked out how countries in the Global South also benefit from the profits of deep-sea mining, it will only be a minority of humanity who will be able to use these raw materials.
Because deep-sea mining is a project of industry and a capitalist economic policy. It counteracts all efforts to reduce resource consumption, to get away from the high footprint that the countries of the Global North such as Germany already have and to finally restore a life within the limits of the planet and in dignity for all people.
Deep-sea mining is the counter-project to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which the international community of states only adopted in 2015 with a big festival and an even bigger promise of a transformation of our world towards more justice and resource protection. And deep-sea mining is also the counter-project to the ongoing negotiations to protect large areas of the high seas.
Mining in the sea is a fatal, wrong development. What we need instead is less pressure on the oceans and their inhabitants, whether humans, animals or plants, less industrial use and less entrepreneurial greed. We need strong regulation to protect the oceans and all those who live from them sustainably, a U-turn in our economic policy and transparent, trustworthy institutions.

Photo: Expedition to the Deep Slope from Bruce Strickrott under CC BY 2.0 license