The Norwegian government “argues that deep-sea mining is crucial for the world’s energy transition, as it could dramatically increase the supply of critical minerals needed for the shift toward electrification”. Yet, over 800 marine science and policy experts – as well as 24 European, Latin American, and Pacific nations – have called for a pause or moratorium on deep-sea mining in an open letter. They say that there is “a lack of data on its environmental and climate impacts” and limited knowledge around the biodiversity and habitats found in the deep-sea.
🌱 What legal risks come with Norway’s decision?
Norway’s Environment Agency and its Institute of Marine Research have “argue[d] that the environmental assessment conducted before the decision was insufficient for the legislation to be passed”. Moreover, the Norwegian law firm, Wilkborg Rein published a memo in November 2023, which “said that passing the bill with an inadequate environmental assessment could violate not only the country’s own laws on environmental protection, but also European and international laws”. As a consequence, NGOs, environmental groups, and local communities could launch lawsuits to halt the mining.
🌱 What alternatives are being suggested?
Critics of deep-sea mining argue that “[w]e can upgrade our economies and get to zero carbon without wrecking the deep ocean in the process”. They say that the demand for critical raw minerals could be satisfied largely through the increased recycling of e-waste and by extending the lifetime of electronic products. In line with this, they think “that recycling and reusing the minerals that can be found in electronic waste is a better source of materials” than deep-sea mining is. The opponents of deep-sea mining therefore “argue that more investment should go into recycling and reusing the existing minerals we have [already] mined on land”.
🌱 Are the alternatives feasible?
On 9 January 2023, the Environmental Justice Foundation published a report that argues that “deep-sea mining was not needed for [a] clean energy transition”. The report anticipates that “a combination of a circular economy, new technology and recycling could cut cumulative mineral demand by 58% between 2022 and 2050”. It also highlights that “16,000 tonnes of cobalt per year, about 10% of annual production, could be recovered through improved collection and recycling of mobile phones” alone. Beyond this, it is argued that “soon carmakers might not need some of the metals Norway is targeting” because of rapid-occurring changes in the chemical composition of batteries. Therefore, the “new battery technologies and the potential for existing mineral supplies [could] be sufficient [for the needs of the energy transition] if recycling rates improved.”
Read more about Norway’s decision to commence deep-sea mining here: