THE UN INTERNATIONAL SEABED AUTHORITY (ISA)
The ISA regulates and controls all mineral-related activities in the international seabed for the ‘benefit of mankind as a whole’.
How the ISA regulates the seabed is by developing mining standards and guidelines with trusted members (a fifth of which are contractors for deep sea mining companies) to legitimise selling off the seabed to the highest bidder.
Deep sea mining is a nascent industry looking to carefully mine the seabed so we can have the batteries we need to fuel a green revolution. Or that’s what companies like The Metals Company (backed by AllSeas), Lockheed Martin and DEME would like us to think.
The deep seabed is largely unexplored, many areas have unique marine life (an estimated 10m life forms and most are undiscovered) and many areas are important to the survival of all ocean life. Deep Sea Mining in areas like the Clarion Clipperton Fracture Zone (CCFZ) (Pacific Ocean) will destroy the deep seabed and the life that depends on it, destroying corals and sponges that have taken thousands of years to grow. The sediment plumes will rise upwards through water columns harming more life above. Toxic metals will inevitably find their way into the food chain – we just don’t know how catastrophic deep-sea mining will be when it comes to sediment release, nor do the companies involved.
Noise from deep sea mining is another big problem. Whales and other deep-diving animals rely on sound to hunt prey, sonic prospecting and drilling will prevent this happening, seriously disrupting delicate ecosystems.
Recently the ISA awarded licences to mine 8,000 to 9,000 square kms of deep seabed at a time. This area is equivalent to one third of Belgium*. That’s one third of Belgium stripped clean of all life, hard to imagine this being allowed on land isn’t it? But the high sea is out of sight and clearly out of mind.
The ISA is supposed to manage the high seas for the ‘benefit of [hu]mankind’. Why is a UN agency allowed to act against its own ‘precautionary principles’? Is profit the only measure the ISA is considering? There is a lot of smoke around the ISA, its governance is opaque and is getting rapidly worse with corporations and industries having an ever bigger say in its decision making processes.
And the need for minerals is also a lie. Major international companies have stated they will not use nor invest in deep sea metals. The list is growing and includes signatories like BMW, Volkswagen and Google. But also banks are steering clear of this emerging industry that belongs in the past. Companies are developing batteries that don’t require any of the metals deep sea mining will deliver. This is because battery technology is changing. Deep sea mining is a 1970s nightmare living in the 21st Century, just like fossil fuels. In fact the only real solution to our climate crisis and resource issues are nature-led and require a change in the way we act. The throwaway culture of the past needs to be thrown away, companies and governments must steer away from stealing anything they require (using the guise of progress) for profit, towards a circular view that values repairability and the urban mining of existing, extracted, metals.
The U.N. General Assembly is the only body with the power to stop the ISA from selling-off the seabed. So far it has done nothing – despite nation states expressing deep concerns about the ISA’s lack of transparency.
Add this to the failure of a treaty to protect the High Seas (or the likelihood of a treaty which certainly won’t protect the high seas) isn’t it time for the UN to put its collective hands in the air and declare ‘this isn’t working’? It’s all very well for the UN to make statements like ‘arson of our only home’ but talk is cheap. Stop the pointless talk and geopolitical gaming, tell the truth, sit down afresh and start real change. Call out the companies and governments who are obstructing the saving of the Ocean, and name the implications of what they are trying to achieve. We need the Ocean to thrive again, as the sea dies we die.
The UN must form a new, transparent, and representative body to govern the Ocean for the benefit of ALL life. This new body must have the restoration and replenishment of the Ocean as its only measure of success. It should replace corporate power with people power. And it should represent the many forms of marine life who actually make the ocean a home.
Clive Russell adds:
“The UN International Seabed Authority (ISA) is clearly unfit for purpose. How does decimating the deep sea bed, releasing carbon stored in deep sea sediments, and disrupting the Earth’s largest (and most undisturbed) ecosystem, fit with the UN’s aims for the future of this planet?
Suzanne Stallard adds:
“The UN talks a great talk. The International Maritime Organisation and International Seabed Authority, both UN bodies, are unfit for purpose. Both are totally corrupted by industry and both govern the Ocean on behalf of industry. We are living in an age of unprecedented ecological breakdown, the UN must recognise this by governance not just in words. We ask the UN to call out its rogue subsidiaries, more harmful to life on earth than rogue states.”
Photos: From the top, 1, 2, 6 (deep sea creature making at the Ocean Rebellion workshop, Lisbon) 5 and 7 ‘THROWAWAY THIS…’ and ‘PUT SEA MINING…’ illuminations of the Torre de Belém, Lisbon, during the UN Ocean Conference 2022. João Daniel Pereira. 3 and 4 (illuminations by Ocean Rebellion onto the side of the Metals Company’s deep sea mining vessel the ‘Hidden Gem’) Savannah van den Rovaart.
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